Photo: Mark Hogancamp © 2015 Mark Hogancamp / Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY

Photos from Marwencol, the Village Where WWII Never Ended

Mark Hogancamp built Marwencol, a fictional Belgian village, out of dolls and action figures after he woke up from a coma.

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Oct 27 2015, 3:11pm

Photo: Mark Hogancamp © 2015 Mark Hogancamp / Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY

It was a documentary, it will become a feature film, and it's about to be a book. It's the story of Mark Hogancamp, an artist who built a vivid and intricate world out of dolls during his recovery from a severe beating that almost left him dead.

Five men ambushed Hogancamp one night after they had all been drinking at a bar in Kingston, New York. (The attack may have been motivated by Hogancamp's admission that he enjoyed crossdressing.) The men stomped on Hogancamp's chest and face, destroying his skull around his right eye and damaging his brain. He spent nine days in a coma; when he awoke, he had to relearn how to eat, walk, and write, according to a press release from his publisher.

That's when he started building Marwencol, an imaginary town set in World War II-era Belgium. Hogancamp created buildings and then elaborate scenes and individual characters, integrating parts of his past life into the story. Though he never served in WWII—he was born in 1962—he did spend five years in the Navy, and his grandfather regaled him with stories from the war when he was young.

A new book, Welcome to Marwencol, includes 100 pages of Hogancamp's photographs from the miniature village.

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"I used to have a photographic memory, and my imagination was vivid...like there were color movies going on in my head. But when I woke up after the attack, there was nothing. It was jumbled, all over the place," Hogancamp wrote.

"My father brought some drawings of mine to the hospital; he thought maybe they would spark up some memories. I knew I could draw, and I tried to, but I can't draw the way I used to anymore.

"I wanted to bring it back—my imagination— because I knew my mind was an eight-cylinder engine that's only running on one cylinder. So I figured to get it back, I would build my own bar. Because I always wanted my own place. So I built it...and then it looked weird all by itself out there, so I built other buildings to keep it company."

A soldier is killed during a New Year's patrol of Marwencol. Photo: Mark Hogancamp © 2015 Mark Hogancamp / Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY

This is a photo of the 1942-43 New Year's Eve Party in the Ruined Stocking Catfight Club in Marwencol, Belgium. Photo: Mark Hogancamp © 2015 Mark Hogancamp / Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY

Five SS soldiers sneak up and attack me, punching and kicking at my head. Photo: Mark Hogancamp © 2015 Mark Hogancamp / Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY

Hogie receives new figures for his miniature World War II town in the mail. Photo: Mark Hogancamp © 2015 Mark Hogancamp / Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY

Rescuing the Major. Photo: Mark Hogancamp © 2015 Mark Hogancamp / Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY

A photographer takes a photo of Anna and me at Marwencol Falls, where we spent our honeymoon. Photo: Mark Hogancamp © 2015 Mark Hogancamp / Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY

A soldier pays his respects to his buddy in Marwencol's cemetery. Photo: Mark Hogancamp © 2015 Mark Hogancamp / Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY

Lt. Tonjes takes a break from sweeping Marwencol's gas station to talk with Mailman. Photo: Mark Hogancamp © 2015 Mark Hogancamp / Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY

A Nazi bike messenger blows through Marwencol's guard gate. Photo: Mark Hogancamp © 2015 Mark Hogancamp / Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY

T. C. and I are sitting drinking real coffee under our shelter made of bodies during the worst snowstorm in Belgian history. The real T. C. died before this was taken, but he lives on in Marwencol. Photo: Mark Hogancamp © 2015 Mark Hogancamp / Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY

Mark working in Marwencol in 2005. Photo: Tom Putnam

These photos are excerpted from Welcome to Marwencol, by Mark Hogancamp and Chris Shellen, out November 2015 from Princeton Architectural Press.