The artist who signed his work "William Streib" was only active in the pulp magazine industry from 1929 to 1934. He drew pen and ink story illustrations for Short Stories, West, and Five-Novels Monthly. He is also credited with having painted only two covers of pulp magazines. One is the cover of Short Stories from May 25, 1931, and the other is Short Stories from January 10, 1934, on the table of contents of which his name is spelled "Strieb."
All of these publications were produced within one unusually-narrow vicinity of time and place.
Although this artist is obviously an accomplished draftsman and an active professional there are no instances of his signed illustrations published before 1929 or after 1934. 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 1929 and then disappear without a trace four years later. Another factor that might be related to this alias is that the years of his activity from 1929 to 1934 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 "William Streib" or "William Strieb" in a business directory, telephone book, artist association, public, government, or genealogical archive.
All of these combined factors suggest "William Streib" 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 Stephen Waite.
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 Strieb" adds considerable circumstantial evidence to the overwhelming stylistic similarity between these two artists. So it seems likely that William Streib was actually Stephen Waite.
However the mystery does not end there.
Further research proves the work of Stephen Waite only appeared in pulp magazines produced at about the same time period as those of William Streib. In addition, his work often appeared in the same magazine titles, which were produced by the same editorial staff at Clayton and Doubleday. Even more oddly, 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,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 in 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 he worked under an exclusive contract and 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 Stephen Waite.
© David Saunders 2013