Pro Junior, by Don Dohler

Don Dohler was the creator of the comics character Pro Junior, who originated in a high school fanzine and later inspired a crossover comic book by various legendary underground comix artists. While never a professional comics artist himself, Dohler gained some fame as the publisher of the influential filmfanzine Cinemagic and director of low-budget horror sci-fi cult pictures like 'Nightbeast' (1982) and 'The Galaxy Invader' (1985).

Dohler was born in 1946 in Baltimore, Maryland. He had early interest in film making, particularly monster movies and the work of special effects maker Ray Harryhausen. Another love was Mad Magazine. In school he created a comic character, ProJunior, whom he would later re-use for comic strips he made for his high school fanzine, Wild! (1961-1963). ProJunior was a tall, slender, spooky-eyed youngster who looked like a demented version of Chic Young's Dagwood Bumstead. He also became Wild!'s mascot. His name refered to the fact that Dohler saw himself as a "junior professional editor". While the fanzine was mostly a local affair, it did run for two years and attracted many enthusiastic contributors, among whom some later became famous underground comix artists, such as Jay Lynch, Skip Williamson and Art Spiegelman. They always remained grateful to Dohler for launching their careers. In 1971 Lynch drummed up all his colleagues in the underground comix scene to publish a special comic book starring ProJunior. The character was resurrected with a slightly different look - he now wore a Tarzan-like leopard skin - but otherwise looked the same. 22 artists like Robert Crumb, Jay Kinney, Jay Lynch, Skip Williamson, Jim Mitchell, Peter Loft, Ned Sonntag, Dave Dozier, Wendel Pugh, Dave L. Herring, Bruce Walthers, Dale Kuipers, S. Clay Wilson, Justin GreenPete Poplaski, Trina Robbins, Art Spiegelman, Evert Geradts, Denis Kitchen, Joel Beck and Bill Grifith all drew short stories about him. Dohler also contributed one. The book was distributed by Kitchen's own Krupp Comic Works. The only other comic strip Dohler drew personally was a one-page story in Jay Lynch's one-shot comic book 'Roxy Funnies' (1972).

By 1967 Dohler's interest had shifted from comics to film making. A high school drop-out since age 16, he found a job at Eddie Leonard Restaurants in Washington D.C. He made a few short films like 'Mr. Clay' (1967) and 'Pursued' (1968). In 1972 he founded Cinemagic, a magazine for aspiring film makers, full with tips, advice and information on all the technical aspects of the art form, including how to make miniature U.F.O.'s or puppet monsters with a string budget. Even though Cinemagic only lasted eleven issues, it had a professional approach and wide reach. Among the later film directors and visual effects artists who read and learned from it were Tim Sullivan ('2001 Maniacs'), Michael Trcic (animator and puppeteer for 'Jurassic Park'), Al Magliochetti ('Terminator 2', 'Natural Born Killers'), Ernest D. Farino ('The Thing', 'The Terminator') and J.J. Abrams ('Star Trek Into Darkness', 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens'). In 1979 it was profitable enough to be sold to the same company that distributed the more big-budget film magazines Starlog and Fangoria. 

Dohler tried to make a feature film for several years, but only found a purpose after he was victim of a bank robbery. A group of armed robbers held him and his colleagues hostage for an hour. After surviving this Dohler was more anxious than ever to make an actual movie. He quit his job and actively assembled enough people and money to make his debut feature. 'The Alien Factor' (1978) had a plot which Dohler recycled in almost all of his next films: an extraterrestrial alien terrorizes a local village, while being hunted down by a sherrif.  The picture was neither a financial or a critical success, just like his next pictures: 'Fiend' (1980), 'Nightbeast' (1982), 'The Galaxy Invader' (1985) and 'Blood Massacre' (1988).  Dohler quickly found out that he didn't really like directing and thus he left this task mostly to others, while spending his real passion on the more technical aspects. He retired in 1988, frustrated with the entire industry, but returned to the director's seat 11 years later. 'Alien Rampage' (1999) was the official sequel to his debut film, while 'Harvesters' (2001),  also dug in the past by remaking 'Blood Massacre'. His final films were 'Stakes' (2002), 'Vampire Sisters' (2003) and 'Dead Hunt' (2006). He spent his final years as co-founder of Movie Club Magazine (1993-1997), which expressed his love for monster movies. In 2006 he passed away from cancer.

All of Dohler's pictures were low-budget and often featured friends and family members as actors. Only two managed to gain a cult following over the decades: 'Nightbeast' and 'The Galaxy Invader'. 'Nightbeast'  is remembered for John Dods' impressive special effects, but not much else. Interestingly enough, the soundtrack was composed by Robert J. Walsh and J.J. Abrams, who was only 16 years old at the time. The picture was given a bad review by Internet critic James Rolfe (better known as the Angry Video Game Nerd) in a 2012 episode of his web series Cinemassacre. Red Letter Media also panned it in an episode of 'Best of the Worst' and chose it as the worst film of all three pictures they had watched that night. However, they did praise Dohler's other film, 'The Galaxy Invader', as their personal favorite of his work.  'The Galaxy Invader' was also reviewed and mocked in 2008 in an another well known Internet series, 'The Cinema Snob' by Brad Jones, and by RiffTrax: former members of the cult TV show 'Mystery Science Theater 3000' (1988-1999) and the godfathers of comedic film reviews.

For those interested in Dohler's life the documentary 'Blood, Boobs & Beast' (2009) is a must-see.

Series and books by Don Dohler in stock in the Lambiek Webshop:

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