Last time in this space, we offered you insights into the life of talented artist Fred Kida offered by one of his sons and one of his grandchildren. The focus of that companion piece was the relationship between Mr. Kida – who was called “Fritz” by his family and close friends – and his wife, Elly. The couple was together over six decades.
The wonderful and touching examples of the notes Fritz habitually created for his bride, like the one above, were provided to us by son Paul and granddaughter Lani. They also shared their memories with us, and Paul told a story about one of his father’s favorite pastimes, weightlifting.
“He lifted weights until the day he died,” Paul told us. “This is what I remember – Dad was a small guy, he was like five-foot-seven, maybe. And I remember these three guys would come over, and they were all like six-foot-one, six-foot-two. These were hulking dudes! And he would lift the same weights they lifted. It was hilarious!
“Dad had his weights, and he asked me, ‘Can I put my weights in your bedroom?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, that’s not a big deal.’ So when these guys would come over to lift, one of them might lift a little more than Dad, but two of those guys, he was lifting exactly what they were lifting. For his size – unbelievable!”
Fritz was also musically inclined. His granddaughter, Lani, said, “He played the clarinet. I remember when I was very little, I didn’t know he played an instrument, but one day I found out that, yes, he did play the clarinet.”
Paul added to that topic, saying, “He actually got the chance to play with Benny Goodman one time. Somehow my aunt and uncle knew someone who knew Benny, and Dad got a chance to sit in with Benny. He said it was horrible! He said, “The guy doesn’t know how to have fun.” They were just jamming, but Dad said Goodman was a perfectionist, beyond focused, to the point where he couldn’t have fun with other people playing.
“Dad was good, too. I remember one time he picked up a sax, and he knew how to play that. He said, ‘The keys are pretty similar, so I figured it out.’”
We provided an example of Fritz’s oil paintings in Spider-Man Volume 5; as you’ve seen, other examples are included throughout this article. Working in oils was one of his passions; when asked why he did not seek to transition from comics illustration to a career in painting, Paul offered a pragmatist’s answer.
“He was making pretty decent money in comics, and he relaxed by oil painting, so he figured, ‘If I’m making good money in cartooning, why try to push my way into oil painting?’” Lani offered up what she referred to as a “treasured memory” when she told us:
“I like to draw and paint and dabble in artwork. Not that I think I’m any good at it, but one day I went down to go visit and I got really brave. I brought my paint book with me of things to share with him, so I could show him I was doing something that we shared in common – though I wasn’t at as his level, by any means. And he looked at one of my pages – I was practicing drawing a hand – and, ‘It almost looks like a photograph.’ I think he was being overly generous, but that made me really proud.”
One aspect of many artists’ lives that goes undiscussed is their spiritual side. This was a focal point in Fritz’s life; writing Fred Kida’s obituary for The Comics Journal in 2014, scholar Art Lortie prominently stated that, “Deeply religious, [Kida] also served as an elder in the Port Chester [New York] Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses.” We spoke with Paul and Lani to learn more about Fritz’s beliefs and his background within his church.
Paul offered up what in comics terms could be called the “secret origin” of his father’s religious awakening. “There used to be meters on houses, and our meter-reader was a Jehovah’s Witness. He started talking about the Bible, from there my Dad just started studying, liked what he heard, and we started going when I was about, probably, five years old. Dad was baptized as a Jehovah’s Witness in 1957, I think it was.
“Now, Mom didn’t want to have anything to do with it for a couple of years. There wasn’t too much discussion about it, it was more like, ‘Just leave me alone, leave me out of it.’ And that’s how Dad left it – but he’d always leave the magazines on the bed, and then there was one that piqued her interest, and she read it, and she said, ‘This really makes sense.’ So she started having her Bible studies, and that was it. I want to say it was about 1959 when she got baptized, in Toronto, Canada. I remember that, because it was the first time I ever saw a foot-long hot dog! There were conventions every year in the summertime, generally, and if they weren’t at Yankee Stadium, Dad would take us to Buffalo or Canada, and once I remember going to Maryland. Dad would take us somewhere and make it a mini-vacation. So I remember going to a lot of conventions out of state, and then to Yankee Stadium.”
Lani mentioned something both she and Paul agreed upon: so strong was Fritz’s desire to join the Jehovah’s Witnesses, he kicked a habit in order to do so. “He gave up smoking for it,” she said. “Witnesses do not smoke, and when he started studying and realized he wanted to become baptized, one of the things he had to do was quit smoking, and he quit cold turkey. He wasn’t going to let something like that get in his way!”
Lani continued, “An elder is there to take care of everybody else in the congregation, because the congregation is like a family. And he loved his spiritual family very much. That’s a very time-consuming job to have, to be an elder, to work with the other elders to make sure everyone’s needs are being met within the congregation. Whether there’s a family in crisis, or perhaps somebody lost their job, or maybe they need more spiritual assistance – those are all things that he was a part of. And he loved doing the door-to-door work, he loved the studying, too.”
Paul spoke about his father’s tolerant nature, citing a way he tested it during his boyhood years. “Dad was no hot-head – he’d put up with a lot. I started playing drums when I was in junior high. My bedroom was like two doors down, like fifteen feet away from his studio. I’d come home from school and crank my stereo and play drums while he was working. He would let me do it. I never realized how crazy that was at the time – here I am for half an hour, playing my drums, and he’s trying to work! I’ve got Led Zeppelin cranked up and never once did he come in and say, ‘Turn it down,’ or ‘Don’t play.’”
When asked if it was cool, growing up as a kid whose father drew comics, Paul said, “It’s even cooler now! Yeah, I always thought it was neat. A lot of my friends weren’t into comics, so it was no big deal to them, but the ones did know comics were like, ‘Wow!’”
Flashing forward to the period following Fritz’s April 3, 2014 passing, Paul went on, “I was on-line after Dad died. I looked up every website and actually I printed out what I found. I have a little memory book for him. I was surprised how many younger people knew him, people in their twenties and thirties. Now it was my turn to go, ‘Wow!’”
One of the pleasures of working for The Library of American Comics is learning more about the talented men and women who commit their skills and imaginations to paper, then sharing that newfound knowledge with you. We know you’ll join us in thanking both Paul and Lani for sharing their memories and so much of Fritz’s private work with us. Be sure to check out Volumes 3-5 in our Amazing Spider-Man series for more from the talented Fred Kida, the man they called Fritz.