Earlier this spring we released Spider-Man Volume 5, featuring the comic strip adventures of Marvel’s amazing arachnid from 1985-86. In preparing the text feature for the book I was lucky enough to gain additional insights into the life and career of one of the often-unheralded Spidey newspaper creators, Fred Kida. I got them from the most reliable sources available – via interviews with Paul Kida, one of Fred’s sons, and his granddaughter, Lani! One of the first things I learned was Fred’s nickname.
“I’m not used to hearing him called ‘Fred,’” Lani said about her grandfather at the beginning of our interview. “Everybody in the family always called him ‘Fritzie’ or ‘Fritz.’ So when I hear ‘Fred,’ it’s kind of … interesting.”
Paul offered the origin behind Fred’s nickname. “It was because of a German girl who once knew him. She called him ‘Fritz’ instead of ‘Fred,’ and it just stuck. Everybody called him either ‘Fritz’ or ‘Fritzie.’”
Family and friends knew him as Fritz, but fans recognized him as the artist whose work on Airboy made that Hillman Periodicals series a high-water mark in the comics history of the 1940s and early ’50s. Mr. Kida later assisted Dan Barry for several years on the Flash Gordon strip, and his pencils and inks graced a variety of Marvel Comics in the 1970s and ’80s. Paul told me, “He did some Captain America, he inked some Iron Man, Defenders, Godzilla, Captain Britain, and he did some Ka-Zar, too, because I’ve got one hanging in my hallway.” LOAC readers also recognize him as the third artist on the Amazing Spider-Man newspaper strip, where he succeeded the senior John Romita and Larry Lieber.
The best artists in comics earn that reputation because they work at their craft and use it in different ways. Fritz was no exception, and in addition to comics art he also worked in oils for his own pleasure. “Dad was just a natural, he was amazing,” said Paul, “and he loved oil painting more than anything else.”
We showcased one of Fritz’s oil paintings in Spider-Man Volume 5 – all the constraints of that book would allow us to run! – but Lani and Paul generously shared many more of his private pieces, and several of them were devoted to his wife of sixty-seven years, Elly.
During our interview, Lani told me: “He just worshiped the ground my grandmother walked on, he absolutely adored her. And he would write these little notes, and they would say, ‘Love, Fritz’ on them.”
When asked to describe Elly, Paul said, “She was your typical ‘Mrs. Cleaver’ mother – Mom was your typical, 1950s-60s stay-at-home Mom. You’d come home from school and she was there, cooking dinner. A full meal, every night, and always a cooked breakfast for us. That’s how I learned to cook, just by being in the kitchen with her every day, because I do all the cooking in our house today. One of my biggest memories: coming come from school, Mom’s in the living room, ironing and watching the Yankees, back when they had day games.””
Kida “saw comics as a means to an end,” according to Paul. “He loved oil painting. There was a portrait of my Mom that always hung in the living room. He did it when she was twenty-three, and it is just insanely good.”
Thinking about Elly made Lani chuckle. “She had a sharp wit — she needed one, to keep up with him! They would have their little jokes, going back and forth. He adored her, and she adored him right back.”
I asked if Fritz and Elly were more a case of Opposites Attract or more one of Hand In Glove.
“They were similar in some ways, not in others,” Paul replied. “They always went everywhere together — until I was sixteen, the family went everywhere together. If he had to deliver artwork in the city, he’d either take me or the whole family would drive down. Family vacations, every year to Florida. Mom’s mother had a place in St. Augustine and Dad’s father lived in Naples, so we would drive down, spend a day with Grandma, then go to Naples and spend a week, then go home again.”
After their courtship, the Kidas were married in early October, 1946, their union broken only with Fritz’s passing on April 3, 2014. Lani said, “They were married a very long time — when he passed away, she was quite heart-broken. She went to go live in Hawaii,” where the younger of her two sons, Peter Kida, resides. Lani continued, “I think she was in Hawaii for about a year before she passed away. But she was always full of life, always full of pep and vinegar. She was no slouch, let me tell you!”
As these pieces make clear, the artist who breathed life into characters like Airboy, Flash Gordon, and yes, the Amazing Spider-Man, felt exactly the same way.
Watch this space soon for more about Fritz Kida, and be sure to check out Spider-Man Volumes 3-5 to see more of his excellent artwork.