Welcome to Marwen: Is Roberta Based on a Real Hobby Store Clerk? Did She and Mark End Up Together?

In ‘Welcome to Marwen,’ Mark Hogancamp, a photographer who survived an attack by five men, often visits a hobby store run by his friend Roberta, the store clerk. Mark spends his time pouring over the shelves in anticipation of the next miniature he can purchase for his model village of Marwen. Roberta helps him in his quest for doll-hunting, keeping him company and acting as his confidante. There is also a hint that she might have deeper feelings for him than he knows. She is sensitive to his trauma and loss of memory as they both discuss it quite openly and without any barriers. However, was the hobby store clerk a real presence in Mark’s life, and if so, how deep was their bond in real life?

Roberta is a Fictional Store Clerk

Roberta is a fictional character in ‘Welcome to Marwen.’ She was conceived by Robert Zemeckis and Caroline Thompson when they penned the script. The hobby store where Mark Hogancamp spent most of his time had no store clerk named Roberta. Instead, the store was J&J Hobbies in Kingston, New York, run by its owners Janet and Mark Wikane. The Wikanes were not clerks like Roberta, but they were good friends with Hogancamp as he frequently visited them for his miniature collection and dolls. So, Roberta was created to fulfill the role of Mark’s confidant, friend, and later romantic interest within the film.

She also plays a pivotal part in discovering Mark’s work and sending it to a friend who owns a gallery. Mark’s work is presented at the photography exhibition because of her influence. This aspect of her character is fictional as well. In reality, David Naugle, a local photographer who worked for a magazine, discovered Hogancamp’s work. Naugle found out about the village of Marwencol after he noticed Hogancamp walking around with his army jeep full of dolls outside his trailer home. The magazine photographer was amazed to learn about Hogancamp’s work, and he alerted the editor of Esopus, an art journal, to pick up his photographs.

So, the film combines two elements of Mark Hogancamp’s real life, the Wikanes who own J&J Hobbies and David Naugle, into the fictional character of Roberta. She is friendly to him, like the hobby store owners, and greatly supports his work in the village of Marwen. However, while she is accommodating in many ways, the female confidant is not real.

The Real Mark Did Not Find His Roberta

At the end of the film ‘Welcome to Marwen,’ Roberta and Mark plan to go out on a date. This signifies the possibility of a future relationship between the pair. However, this is fictional, as Roberta doesn’t exist. Hogancamp was a divorced man from before the grave encounter he had with the five men outside the bar in Kingston, New York. His ex-wife had left him because of his severe drinking habit. Under the influence of drinks, he disclosed to the five men that he was into wearing nylons and heels, which led to them attacking him.

Hogancamp is generally a reserved and quiet man who lives in the fantasy of his World War II-era miniature village and the stories that blossom within the confines of that fantasy. His interactions with women mostly revolve around his alter ego, Cap’n Hogie, in the miniature village of Marwen. He surrounds his central character with female dolls. Anytime he develops a crush on someone, he turns them into a doll in his make-believe world. The name of the village, Marwencol, is a combination of Mark, Wendy, and Colleen. The latter two were women Mark had developed a crush on, but nothing came out of it.

When asked about sharing his life with a woman, he told The New York Times, “If she’s artistic and can get into all this (Marwencol). If she can play with dolls, if she’s just happy with Payless nylons and Payless shoes, I want to share my empire with her. I don’t want a gold diggah. We could watch a good movie together, cry together, and just enjoy each other for who we are. That’s my dream.” So, while the film may have us believe in the romantic fantasy of Mark building a future life with Roberta, it’s not based on reality.

Read more: Inspirational Movies Based on True Stories