“Welcome to Marwencol,” the book

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This blog has decidedly too few mentions of “Marwencol.” So here we go. Watch that film. And if you’re like me, and you wish you could look at the images from the film every day, you can buy the book, “Welcome to Marwencol.” Voila.

Mark Hogencamp created the town of Marwencol at his home. It’s a fictional Belgian town made of figures, buildings, and vehicles that are 1/6 the size of real life. He designs and plays out incredibly detailed, meticulously set up scenes in Marwencol, snapping photos as momentos. Mark has been doing this both for hand-eye coordination therapy and for emotional therapy since a brutal assault that gave him a severe TBI. The filmmaking is lush, beautiful, and utterly exquisite. And Mark’s stories unfold gently, in a touching, non-sensationalist way. Let’s see. What else is perfect about this movie? You do also get to watch an enormous tension unfold when Mark’s town and photographs–which have their own meaning to him–are suddenly labeled “art” and put into a gallery. The gallery scene made me cry. By the time you get to that scene, you are so connected to Mark. You wish you could be in there cheering him on at his first gallery show and listening to the intricate stories he weaves to introduce art patrons to Marwencol and its inhabitants.

But something happens at the gallery. It’s one of the reasons I wanted to make my own documentary about artists with traumatic brain injury. Some of the gallery patrons find themselves more interested in discussing the technical aspects of the art than listening to Mark discuss his world.

How many times do I see this over and over and over with disabled people? Non-disabled people pick out one thing about you they want to know, and if you offer anything else, it’s rejected.

“No, I don’t want to know that. I already decided what your story is. I’m at your show, but tell me what I want to hear. I don’t have time for your weird stories. I want to get to know your art, not you.”

I cried in that scene because what Mark was offering of himself seemed not good enough, not cool or hip or artsy. Whatever it was, it hurt. And no, of course, those patrons don’t mean to be ableist. I know. I know. I get it. But when non-disabled people spurn people with disabilities, you just have to know that well, here it goes again. One more instance that someone goes to share what’s important to them, but it’s not worthy of being discussed in a real gallery. Don’t worry; the very next scene brings great relief and joy. This movie is tough and deep and unapologetic, but it’s not a downer.

So the book: “Welcome to Marwencol” is a 278-page hardcover art and storybook about Mark Hogancamp and his imaginary World War II—era town called Marwencol.

The cover of "Welcome to Marwencol" shows Hogie in a fighter jet wearing headphones and a life vest. He stares directly at the camera.

[Image description: The cover of “Welcome to Marwencol” shows Hogie in a fighter jet wearing headphones and a life vest. He stares directly at the camera.]

The book features nearly 600 full-color images by Mark Hogancamp and covers Mark’s story, an inside look at his town and process, and eight photo stories. It’s published by Princeton Architectural Press. I’ve pre-ordered mine. It hasn’t arrived yet. The best part for me about ordering books online is that I forget I ordered them. And then one day, out of the blue, a gift appears. A majority of the proceeds will go to support Mark and Marwencol, which is pretty cool, whether your remember you bought the book or not.

Marwencol is on Twitter, and find them on Facebook. Mark is getting a ton of press in articles and podcasts. Follow him!

The film is not Closed Captioned, but this beautiful trailer is.