Let’s begin by saying that this is not a review of the new film by Robert Zemeckis titled Welcome to Marwen, starring Steve Carell. While I’m sure that that film is great, if the trailers are to be believed, I just have not had the time to review anew film in theaters today since Aquaman. I’m sure when that films come to Blu-ray, I’ll write up a review for it then. But for today, I am going to tell you about a book called Welcome to Marwencol by photographer Mark Hogancamp and author Chris Shellen, which in turn is inspired by a documentary called Marwencol, which was directed by Jeff Malmberg.
The story of sketch artist turned photographer Mark Hogancamp is one of tragedy turned recovery. Back in the year 2,000, Mark was brutally beaten and left for dead by five young men after drinking in a bar in New York called the Anchorage. Mark’s skull was fractured, and his brain damaged so much that he lost all memory of his life before the attack.
Everything from his ability to draw, to his life with his ex-wife.
The book chronicles Mark’s recovery and discovery of himself through the construction of a town called Marwencol. This fictional Belgian town sees the adventures of Mark’s avatar, Captain “Hogie” Hogancamp, a World War II-era pilot who finds himself in the village of Marwencol which and is constantly in peril thanks to five SS soldiers who are the personal guard of Adolf Hitler. The real life Hogancamp takes pictures of the many adventures of Hogie and the various resident of the Belgian town, a town he built with scraps of plywood, featuring several dolls and action figures in the one sixth scale. While many of the photographs contain graphically violent acts of soldiers in battle, many more of the photos found within this book are merely of the town’s “citizens” living their everyday life; People drinking together, working and simply living their lives.
While this book devotes a good third of its length to the amazing photography of Mark Hogancamp, the real draw of this book, to me, is Mark’s own story of recovery. While I don’t want to spoil anything for you here, you should know that Mark has not had it easy. Mark’s life both before and after his attack was a bit of an uphill battle. Before his injuries, he was an alcoholic that was temporarily homeless, and after the attack, he was unable to even write his own name.
But, as cliché as it is to say this, Mark’s story is an inspirational one of triumph and hard work. Mark turned to photography as an outlet to overcome his inability to draw again and to exercise the pain of that horrible night that saw him nearly beaten to death. While this story may not be the flashiest thing around, while it may sound corny, it should be known and cherished for its own message of not giving up. It’s a story that should be heard for the power that art can have over someone. Some people will stop at nothing to strive to flex their creative muscles and put something out there for the world to see.
The real beauty of this book, and of Mark’s story, is the importance of art, and the perseverance of someone’s spirit. Today, more than ever, I think we need to be reminded of that.