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Growing Reader


Passing the Funny Test:
Inside the Illustration Process for
Jake the Fake Keeps it Real

by Keith Knight

I found my creative talent pretty early on. I remember my kindergarten teacher showing off my drawings of dinosaurs to the class. I also recall drawing my own version of MAD magazine (I called it Kooky magazine) and selling it to classmates in 5th grade. Then I created a comic retelling of a food fight in my junior high cafeteria in 8th grade. In my early work I made fun of students, teachers, and cafeteria workers — yet no one got mad! Everyone was just happy to have made it into the comic strip. I said to myself right then that if I could do this as a job, it would be the greatest thing in the world.

And it has been.

But what happens when you’re paired up with an award-winning, bestselling author and an extremely accomplished comedic performer from television and film? Do you shout out to the world how lucky you are? Or do you hole up in your office and hide from the world? Apparently, both!


As the illustrator of Jake the Fake Keeps it Real, the task of creating 13 dozen illustrations based on a story written by Adam Mansbach and Craig Robinson was daunting, to say the least! I hunched over my drawing table deep into the evening, night after night — but I had a couple of secret weapons in my corner: my two boys, Jasper and Julian.

Jake Liston, the protagonist of Jake the Fake Keeps it Real, reminds me of both of them. They’re a bit artsy, a bit rambunctious, confident in some ways, not-so-confident in others. They’re the real motivation behind my plunge into the world of kids’ book illustration, starting with the wacky story of a kid named Jake trying to find his talent.

There are many illustrations in Jake the Fake Keeps it Real that were fun to draw, but a few of my favorites are:

inline-robotJake’s best bud Evan dreaming he is guiding a gigantic robot through downtown, destroying everything in its path. If you look closely at the butt of the destructive robot, it has a bumper sticker that says “How’s my driving? Call 1-800-555-5555.”


Evan holding Jake up at the bow of the U.S.S. Chum, reminiscent of the iconic scene in “Titanic.”


When Jake is letting the grease drip off of his pizza, it hits the pizza box in the shape of … Greece! (Very few people will catch this!)

With each illustration I finish, it has to get final approval from my toughest critics of all, Jasper and Julian. They ask the pertinent questions: Is the giant robot wrecking enough stuff? Does the slice of pizza have enough pepperoni on it? What sort of soda are they bathing in? Once they approve it, I move on to the next drawing. It’s a lot of work, but it’s totally worth it. To know that my sons have a book series at hand with a protagonist who looks like they do means the world to me. Diversity matters more than most people think it does, and I’m proud to be a part of the growing wave of books celebrating it. Vive la difference!!