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Hogancamp's Heroes: How Playing With Dolls Lets a Hate-Crime Survivor Fight Back

Mark Hogancamp was beaten so badly by five men in 2000 that he lost his memory and had to learn to walk and talk all over again. As he recovered, he found his muse in constructing a 1/6 scale world called Marwencol, a World War II fantasyland. The work served as therapy for both body and brain. Hogancamp’s intricate and lovingly-crafted scenes went viral and became the subject of a book and a documentary. And now it’s in development as a feature film directed by Robert Zemeckis and starring Steve Carell. Chris Shellen, co-author of the book Welcome to Marwencol, tells us about Hogancamp’s life and work.

“He’s fully committed to the image that’s in his head,” Shellen says. “Somebody bought him a model plane, for instance, and the plane was beautiful and perfectly painted, as if it just rolled off the assembly line. Because he was in the Navy and he has an amazing eye for detail, Mark knows how metal rusts and gets weathered by wind. So he took out these rust-colored and metallic paints and weathered the plane to the point where it looks authentically used.

“It’s the same thing with the dolls,” she continues. “He says if you put a doll in a new, starched coat, it looks like a doll. So he’ll put the uniforms on the new dolls, and then he’ll leave them in the elements so that they get soaked in the rain and caked in mud. Then the clothing falls properly, and it looks dirty, like it would. He’ll also use the dirt outside to give the dolls’ faces natural contours, so they look a little haggard. He’s meticulous about the hair as well. He’ll actually style the women’s hair so it doesn’t stick out like doll’s hair sometimes does.”

An article at Collectors Weekly talks about Hogancamp’s attack, his struggle to recover from brain damage, how Marwencol came about, and the interest psychologists are taking in his self-discovered therapy. And there are plenty of pictures, too. 

(Image credit: Mark Hogancamp, courtesy of Princeton Architectural Press)

See also: previous posts on Hogancamp.


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A couple of things I found striking about this article were:

When we first posted about it in 2008, commenters assumed he was beaten by minorities because he was white. Now we find out the real reason.

He has now recovered enough dexterity to return to 1/36 miniatures, so the 1/6 figure that represents himself can have his own miniature hobby.
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