The artist who signed his work "Stephen Waite" was active in pulp magazine illustration from 1931 to 1933. He painted covers for West, Complete Adventure Novelettes, Complete Western Love Novelettes, Complete Mystery Novelettes, Five-Novels Monthly, Lover's Magazine, and Ace-High Magazine. His pen and ink story illustrations appeared in Five-Novels Monthly. In 1933 he illustrated "Clear The Trail" by Charles Alden Seltzer for Doubleday & Doran publishing company.
All of these publications were produced within one unusually-narrow vicinity of time and place.
Although this artist is obviously an accomplished craftsman and an active professional there are no instances of his signed illustrations published before 1931 or after 1933. It is hard to imagine how an artist of such skill and business connections at major publishers might suddenly appear out of thin air in 1931 and then disappear without a trace three years later. Another factor that might be related to this alias is that the years of his activity from 1931 to 1933 were the historic depth of the Great Depression, when desperate situations demanded odd survival tactics from many Americans.
Intensive archival research has failed to locate any listing for an artist named "Stephen Waite" in a business directory, telephone book, artist association, public, government, or genealogical archive.
These combined factors suggest "Stephen Waite" is actually a pen name for another skillful and well-known artist, who preferred to use an assumed name while earning extra income in the pulp magazine field during the hardest times of the Great Depression.
In searching for a likely candidate with stylistic similarities among other professional illustrators working at that same time one outstanding match is William Streib.
A significant clue to this puzzle may have been unintentionally revealed when the cover for West magazine from December 19, 1931, which has a painted signature "Stephen Waite" in the lower left corner, was re-used on the January 10, 1934 issue of Short Stories, in which it appeared with the signature cropped off and with a printed credit on the table of contents to "William Strieb." Since both magazines were published by the same company it is likely that the editorial staff was in a position to know who was who. The fact that editors at Doubleday cropped a painting to eliminate the signature of "Stephen Waite" and then gave it printed credit to "William Streib" adds considerable circumstantial evidence to the overwhelming stylistic similarity between these two artists. So it seems likely that Stephen Waite was actually William Streib.
However the mystery does not end there.
Further research proves the work of William Streib only appeared in pulp magazines produced at about the same time period as those of Stephen Waite, from 1929 to 1934. In addition, his work appeared in many of the same magazine titles. Even more oddly, intensive archival research has failed to locate any listing for an artist named "William Streib" in a business directory, telephone book, artist association, public, government, or genealogical archive,so there is also no archival record to prove such an artist actually existed. Instead of finding the genuine artist behind the alias, the trail has only uncovered another alias. The possibility that both names are fictitious is reinforced by the curious fact that the initials for both names are the same, "W.S." and "S.W."
The real artist apparently had a sense of humor by inventing clever pen names. In following this pattern it seems likely that someone named "William Streib" would be known to friends as "Bill Streib," as well as listed on official registries as "Streib, Bill." Such an alias would be a clever phonetic match for the famous cartoonist, Striebel, who drew Dixie Dugan in newspapers for thirty years.
The chronology of his life story reveals a remarkable coincidence around 1930, when his career went through a rocky period as his marriage fell apart. He left his wife and two children and went through three years of upheaval, while divorce lawyers settled his financial responsibilities. By 1934 he had married a younger second wife and his professional routine resumed a steady course for the remainder of his life. These chronological factors suggest an obvious advantage to temporarily earn additional income off the books under an assumed name and without the scrutiny of legal oversight, while the financial conditions of his divorce were settled.
Striebel was famous for drawing the glamorous Dixie Dugan, the iconic jazz era flapper, who was based on the sexy Hollywood movie star, Louise Brooks. Comparative analysis reveals a plausible similarity between Dixie Dugan and the elegant young women in the pulp illustrations of both Streib and Waite.
Circumstantial evidence, archival research and stylistic interpretation altogether make a convincing case that the actual artist behind both pen names was John Henry Striebel (1891-1962), whose brief biographical profile is located on this website under his name.
Please also see the related profile for William Streib.
© David Saunders 2013