Keith Aoki 1955–2011
This book is dedicated to Keith Aoki: our colleague, co-author and, above all, our friend. Keith passed away, tragically young, while we were creating the comic. He told us of his illness matter-of-factly, a week before his death, as an “apology” for not completing more of the drawings Jennifer and I had designed. He also told us that he wanted us to finish the book we had begun together; in fact he told us that we had to finish the book. Those were the last words we heard him say. We later realized that he had been battling his illness through much of our work on the comic, never complaining.
Keith had told us we had to finish the book. It was only half done. We had no heart for it. In the end, it meant starting again and redrawing the book from scratch with two wonderful professional artists, Ian Akin and Brian Garvey. Every page we went through was a reminder of a conversation we had had with Keith, a joke we had made, a crazy reference to pop culture, or film noir or music or law—because Keith was an artist, a legal scholar, and a hilarious culture-jammer. And each of those reminders was a sad one. It was a deeply painful task. Still, Keith had told us we had to finish the book. Those are the kinds of commands one does not disobey.
If Keith had written this dedication, it would be unsentimental, it would redirect all the praise to others and it would be darkly funny, because Keith had a very dark sense of humor where he was the subject. The last law review “article” he published was a comic with himself as a character. If one looks closely at the T-shirt the character is wearing, it says, “You can’t avoid the void.” Keith knew he was dying when he drew that. No one else did.
We published a book of quotes and drawings to remember Keith—Keith Aoki: Life as the Art of Kindness. You can find it elsewhere. We will not rehash it here except to say: we shall not look upon his like again. Would that the rest of us could be that kind, that modest, that creative.
We finished the comic for you, man. It took us long enough. Sorry about that. But you were terrible with deadlines too, just terrible. So perhaps you’ll cut us a break. You can’t avoid the void. But you can make something beautiful, funny and even maybe insightful that escapes it for a little while.
James Boyle & Jennifer Jenkins
Durham, NC. 2016