Wednesday, August 10, 2011


Mark Hogancamp got beat up in the year 2000. It was outside a bar. He had a thing about wearing women's shoes. The teenagers kicked his head until he went into a coma. When he came out of it he couldn’t remember anything of his previous life, not his alcoholism, his marriage, nor his talents in drawing… it all disappeared. He spent nine days in a coma, forty in the hospital and then was kicked out because he ran out of money. The road to recovery began when he started piecing his life back from reading his journals he had kept from the period before the beating.  In it he read that he was drunk pretty much all of the time. Hogancamp learned when he drank he had been a kind of self-destructive, self-hating asshole. The new Mark Hogancamp, however, was all about love and sober-living.... and dolls. 

He started creating his own world and populating it with fantasy characters that would act out stories in his own self healing therapy project. This project was called “Marwencol”, a small Belgium village built in his back yard that was overrun by GI Joe dolls, Barbie dolls and SS Nazis. Hogancamp created the stories, the scenes and then photographed them. He naturally put himself  into the story as the main character and alter ego in 'Hogie'. Each character represented a town friend who was assigned a role in the continuing unfolding drama at Marwencol. The name of the town came from a combination of Mark's name and two women, Wendy and Colleen, who he had crushes with and who helped him through his difficult early healing process. Through the comic strip narrative the story of good versus bad played itself out in countless complex interactions of characters based on his friends and the forces of good overcoming the evil ones. 

In Marwencol, Hogancamp's alter ego owns the most popular bar in town, as well as a one-of-a-kind "cat fight" club. He's married to a beautiful woman named Anna and is lusted after by a sexy green-haired witch with a time machine. The SS is constantly trying to find Marwencol and take the town. Meanwhile,  Hogancamp, the ladies, soldiers who have wandered away from the battle front find themselves in a place largely untouched by the war. When the Nazi jeeps enter the town they all band together to defeat the SS savagery. The continuous story weaves it's way through Hogancamps mind providing it's own free therapy. It also gives him the time he has needed to put his world together again. 

Along the small Kingston, New York hometown streets where Mark lives a very reclusive life he  regularly walks down the road, sometimes dressed in a World War II soldier uniform, and pulls a small army jeep model on a string into town. That’s where photographer David Naugle, saw him and asked about the jeep. Mark said he was ‘aging’ it so that it looked more realistic for his photo shoot.  David said he would like to see some of Hogancamps photos. An envelope arrived in his mailbox with prints of the photos from his fantasy World War II Marwencol town..The photos were stunning despite Hogancamps crude technical skills with a less than perfect camera. After an article in Esopus magazine appeared about his work, a prominent New York art gallery became interested in the collection of the photos of Mark’s “Marwencol” village. His private world and the self guided therapy was thrown into a whole other realm outside of his back yard and into the Art World. 

Word spread and Mark was introduced to independent filmaker, Jeff Malberg, who directed and edited a documentary film "Marwencol"  about Mark’s story. The film “Marwencol” delves a lot further into the complexity of this story than I’d care to reveal. It is a glimpse into one man’s deep heart, though. Sometimes it feels voyeuristic as this very public media probes the depths of the psyche and how the mind learns to deal with rebuilding what is permanently lost. When a man starts playing with dolls so many assumptions can be made by a society. When the spirit of a man dives into a deep and dark pool to try to heal himself one can only admire the courage and the bravery he takes to piece himself back together again. The documentary is a woven story of this complex tale 

Hogancamp's photos and his Marwencol village are his own world. The ongoing story reveals a place populated by intrigue, strong women, evil intentions, bloodlust, bravery, reconciliation, deviance, strength, sex and death. It all lives true in his eyes and has brought him back from a place few have dared to venture.

Go to the Marwencol website for more information. Also view the Marwencol trailer.

The DVD documentary can be purchased on the web site. Proceeds  go toward helping Mark purchase more figures and set pieces from his favorite town hobby store. The photos are not available for purchase yet as  the sales would endanger his disability payments. 

Marwencol press links..

New York Times - "In a Tiny Universe, Room to Heal" - by Penelope Green
Wall Street Journal - "Illustrator's War Games Prove Restorative" - by Steve Dollar
Psychology Today - "Not Child's Play" - by Ethan Gilsdorf
Huffington Post - "When Therapy Becomes Art" - by Jonathan Kim
Los Angeles Times - "The Extraordinary Goings-On in a Town Called Marwencol" - by Mark Olsen
Wired Magazine - "Miniature Town Brings Its Creator a New Life" - by Pete Brook
Denver Post - "This Doc(umentary) Has Healing Powers" - by Lisa Kennedy
Austin Chronicle - "Life and Death in Miniature" - by Ashley Moreno
Times Herald-Record - "Personal Tragedy Leads Ulster Man to Unique Art Form" - by Jeremiah Horrigan
Montreal Mirror - "A World in His Backyard" - by Mark Slutsky