What They’re Not Telling You About The Dark Tower Lawsuit

Originally published on The Stephen King Universe.

You may or may not have heard that Stephen King has been sued. TMZ reports that The Dark Tower lawsuit alleges that King stole his idea for The Gunslinger, Roland Deschain, from a comic book/magazine entitled The Rook. The lawsuit claims $500 million in damages. There’s a lot that they don’t tell you, despite an apparent ability to do so. What follows in this article should not be construed as legal advice. Rather, it is intended to be a more thorough telling of the story thus far.

The reporting concerning this brand new story has been frustrating. There is no indication anywhere that I have found of where the lawsuit was filed. There is no indication of precisely who the parties to the lawsuit are. There is no indication of precisely what the legal claim is. And despite apparently having the legal documents filed thus far, nobody has published this information. Therefore, information is limited.

This article is going to be in depth. It might even be a little boring to some of you (how’s that for a lead?). But I don’t feel right doing it any other way. TMZ and other outlets haven’t done it right so far — that is to say, thoroughly reporting the available information.

I Have Read The Dark Tower Lawsuit

I have a copy of the Complaint for Copyright Infringement filed in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida, Jacksonville District. The case number assigned to it is 3:17-cv-00348-HES-MCR. I will not publish the Complaint, but if anybody really wants to read it, what you need is a PACER account available through the United States federal court system. Through that PACER account, you may access documents filed in any federal case at the District, Circuit, or Supreme Court levels.

What is frustrating is that I’m guessing TMZ has a copy of the lawsuit too. If they do have a copy of the lawsuit, their reporting fell woefully short of what I think is responsible reporting.

The History of Restin Dane, aka The Rook

Let’s move away from the lawsuit briefly to recap the history of Restin Dane, aka The Rook.

The Rook, is a character created by Bill DuBay and Budd Lewis. He first appeared in Eerie magazine, and later appeared in a publication with his own name, The Rook.

The Rook’s first appearance was in March of 1977 in Eerie #82. According to Comics.org, this was a 20-page story called The Man Whom Time Forgot!:

Comicvine.gamespot.com summarized the story as follows:

Santa Anna’s troops held the tiny Alamo in a strangle hold. The defenders knew they had no chance to triumph. Then along came Rook in his chess piece time travel machine with his ray guns blazing. His purpose…rescue his granddad? OR screw up history?

He appeared again in May of 1977 in Eerie #83. According to Comics.org, this was a 20-page story called The Day Before Tomorrow:

Comicvine.gamespot.com summarized the story as follows:

Gat Hawkins, an Alamo deserter, had become a secret passenger aboard Rook’s time travel machine. Now the killer wanted it and murder was a small price for the wondrous device. The total cost was forfeiture of the future!

He appeared a third time in June of 1977 in Eerie #84. According to Comics.org, this was a 22-page story called Yesterday, The Final Day:

Comicvine.gamespot.com summarized the story as follows:

Wounded by the gunfighter, Alamo deserter, sheriff Gat Hawkin, the Rook’s life ebbs away. With blazing 45’s and a 30 gallon hat comes a savior. So what if he’s made of tin!

The Rook did not appear again until Eerie #98 in January of 1979. The Rook thereafter appeared on several occasions in a publication called The Rook.

The History of The Dark Tower

Frustratingly, several outlets report that Stephen King first started publishing The Dark Tower series in 1982. While that is when The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger was published as a complete book, it is not the first time what is contained in that book was published.

King started to publish The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger in parts, starting in October of 1978 in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction:

That is approximately one and a half years following the first appearance of Restin Dane.

What this timeline means is that if the owners of the copyright as to The Rook are going to have a case, they are going to need to establish that case based largely upon the three issues of Eerie in which Restin Dane first appeared.

TMZ’s Report that The Creator of The Rook is Suing King is Inaccurate

Although TMZ reports that “the creator” of The Rook magazines is suing King, it is unclear to which creator they are referring. Bill DuBay died in 2010. Budd Lewis died in 2014. Warren Publications, the publisher of Eerie declared bankruptcy in 1983, and Harris Publications bought the company’s assets. Then Harris Publications shut down in 2016. Finally, Athlon Media acquired Harris Publications last July.

Who is suing King? The answer is right at the top of the Complaint, if TMZ cared to look: Benjamin M. DuBay and William B. DuBay, LLC. I do not know who Benjamin M. DuBay is, but I’m guessing that he’s a relative of Bill DuBay, and that William B. DuBay, LLC is a limited liability business entity formerly run by the now deceased Bill DuBay.

Notable is that the Complaint is not filed by an attorney. Both Benjamin M. DuBay and William B. DuBay, LLC filed the lawsuit under pro se status, meaning that they are representing themselves. However, the lawsuit is only signed by Benjamin M. DuBay. It is not signed by any attorney for William B. DuBay, LLC. According to the Complaint, the LLC is a Califnornia limited liability company. That Benjamin M. DuBay, apparently a non-lawyer, signed the Complaint on behalf of an out-of-state LLC in federal court is troubling, because this may be the unauthorized practice of law.

As for Benjamin M. DuBay, he claims in the lawsuit that he received an assignment of copyright from William B. DuBay.

That no attorney signed off on this Complaint is not a good sign for the quality of the case. If there was a solid case of copyright infringement to be made, what good copyright attorney wouldn’t want to take Stephen King’s money?

As to the lawsuit itself, it is very lengthy at 33 pages. It contains a lot of accusations. Those accusations generally do two things. First, they lay out all similarities between Restin Dane and Roland Deschain. Yes, there are similarities between the two characters, but similarities do not equal copyright infringement. Second, those accusations attempt to discredit King’s prior statements about the origin of The Gunslinger.

What is the Origin of The Gunslinger and The Dark Tower?

Several influences led Stephen King to create The Gunslinger and The Dark Tower series as a whole. The most obvious origin is Robert Browning’s 1855 poem, Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came. This is Thomas Moran’s 1859 painting by the same name:

You can, in turn, trace the origin of Browning’s poem all the way back to William Shakespeare’s 1607 play King Lear:

Child Rowland to the dark tower came,
His word was still ‘Fie, foh, and fum
I smell the blood of a British man.
 — King Lear, Act 3, scene 4

King has openly stated that Roland Deschain is based upon The Man With No Name, as portrayed by Clint Eastwood in Sergio Leone’s Dollars trilogy: A Fistful of Dollars (1964), For a Few Dollars More (1965), and The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly (1966).

Just three years after that trilogy concluded, King published The Dark Man, a poem said to be the origin of Randall Flagg, a character found in The Stand, The Eyes of the Dragon, and The Dark Tower series. King published this poem in the University of Maine’s literary magazine Ubris in 1969, and later in Moth magazine in 1970.

In 1970, King published Slade, a short story about a cowboy named Jack Slade. Although not otherwordly, there are some similarities between Slade and The Gunslinger. King published Slade in the student newspaper The Maine Campus. Both Slade and Roland Deschain are men of few words who shoot extremely well. Also, their love interests have the same initials. Slade is in love with Sandra Dawson, while Deschain is in love with Susan Delgado.

So Where Does All This Leave DuBay?

It leaves DuBay’s copyright infringement claim in not very good shape — that’s where. I recognize that both Roland Deschain and Restin Dane are cowboy types, and that both stories have elements of time travel in them, but that’s where the similarities stop. King is capable of tracing the origins of The Dark Tower back to William Shakespeare. How far back does The Rook go?

Again, similarity does not equal copyright infringement. Influence upon a work does not equal copyright infringement. King started shaping The Dark Tower and the character The Gunslinger as early as 1969, and he did so through a mixed bag of influences he has openly acknowledged, none of which include The Rook.

This is to say nothing of the dubious timing of this lawsuit, just months before the premiere of the feature film, The Dark Tower. It is a transparent money-grab, likely to whiff and come up with nothing but wasted time and energy.

I would bet a lot of money that this lawsuit is going nowhere. King will spend some money on lawyers to do away with it, but at the end of the day, I’ll be very surprised if he pays out any money as a settlement.

I know I wouldn’t pay a dime to the person suing an incredibly generous man for $500 million dollars because of some happenstance similarities between two characters, the more popular of which exists in the middle of an entire universe created around him over the course of 30 years.

I will have no sympathy for DuBay after this lawsuit is dismissed.