Dead Zines, Headlines

Dead Zines: Issue 0

Publishing on the internet has progressed light years since individuals outside of media conglomerates took to the web. While major news and publishing companies have always had the resources and tools to entrench themselves firmly in ‘cyberspace’, the little guys have had to go and find their own resources to compete and stake their claim.

More than a decade ago, the roots of this magazine you’re reading were earthed during the time of static HTML and extremely limited internet dynamism. It was before social media and before content management systems like WordPress and MovableType gave the average Joe the accessibility they needed to broadcast content on an easy-to-do scale.

The Marshalltown was once called Sound the Sirens Magazine and it shared space with some of the most unique online magazines I can remember visiting on a regular basis. With content management tools becoming more systematic and template based, unique designs (for those who do not have a lot of money to spend) and different personalities are more and more difficult to come by. You’ll come across an online site and you can tell that its design comes from a WordPress template. More frustratingly however, is the constant and widespread lack of content publications tend to peddle these days (God forbid if your site constantly posts “21 things…” lists using memes). Content isn’t easy, it never was, but the online publication sphere has become so crowded that people will literally post anything to get viewers.

We are no strangers to this, sometimes we do have to fight to find the best content for our viewers. It’s the nature of our times.

With that said a lot of magazines we once shared internet traffic with are dead and gone. Their publishers, some more fruitful and successful than others, packed up their word processors and static HTML pages and have moved on to other things. Their work however, are still online, just as they left, dormant and collecting dust on the highway of data traffic and processed keystrokes.

Welcome to Dead Zines, where I will take a look at the ghost towns of some of our favourite defunct internet-based magazines, some years after they were last updated. All with some insight as to what I feel made them so great to read and to visit on a regular basis.

But before we delve into Issue 1, we’ll start with Issue 0, and that is with The Marshalltown’s original incarnation Sound the Sirens Magazine.


Thanks to the waybackmachine, the internet has kept shoddy records of the site’s design progression- like a museum of horror it displays for eternity the slapstick routine undertaken when it came to designing and building the original magazine incarnation of Sound the Sirens. Let’s take a trip down nightmare lane (click on the dates to see what we used to look like)…

December 3rd, 2001: So hilariously bad, although I do still like the old school photo I used. At this early time, I didn’t even have my own web host and shared hosting with some random stranger who offered free space on her domain. Reviews at this point were about two lines long.

February 2nd, 2003: Not sure how to describe this design other than ugly and reminiscent of something created using a “Your First Website” kit. Background is missing but it was that old shoe brown… my first attempt at implementing more magazine-based structure.

February 24th, 2004: Easily one of my favorite incarnations of the site. I took inspiration from Pitchfork and ran with some neo-color schemes and Blade Runner-esque fonts. Should have kept this design for much longer than I did…. updating was fun…. cut and paste HTML code and then upload the page.

January 23rd, 2005: Taken and inspired by a Texas-based daily whose name escapes me. I still like it, but again, lots and lots of cutting and pasting. Took me awhile before I got clued in on content management systems.

January 10th, 2006: Probably my favorite design looking back, I tried my earnest to capture the class and clean interface that a New York Times (yes!) had … accomplished with probably a couple of hundred thousand dollars less in the budget. Finally adopted CMS! Some old and creeky backend called phpwms.

January 2nd, 2007: Another classy look in my opinion, and probably one I should have stuck with. We had news, a photograph section, a jukebox, regular advertising, and some truly productive work schedules.

Looking back through these designs, there are some fond creative vibes resurrected. I did enjoy this process very much (hence the constant need for change) and honestly believe that if all of us (the staff, the writers) had lived on the same continent, we could have really taken it places.

Next: Content



During the earliest days, features and interviews were given a unique look separate from the rest of the site. I felt that with the time invested by both parties to a particular feature, why not give it the kind of character it deserved? There is a distinct lack of character in today’s features and long reads. Very few sites today adopt this approach to content and it’s a shame really. Here is a look back at some of our earliest features that stood out both in content and the way they distinguished themselves from the rest of the site. Click on the titles below to see them now (they’re still live but not archived in our current content management system, yet)

Interview with photographer Grail Mortillaro
A fascinating interview. The design of this interview was meant to portray a “Top Secret” files type look.

Interview with Chamberlain
A real thrill interviewing one of my favorite bands of all time. And no doubt, an Americana feel for the interview.

Interview with Junction 18
Another one of my favorite bands that called it quits far too early. This was meant to match the colours of their debut album.

Interview with Finch
How great was this band? At least through their first album. Definitely wanted to reflect their debut album with the feature.

You get the idea. Some other cool interviews we did with upcoming bands of the time: Senses Fail, Taking Back Sunday, Something Corporate… the list goes on. My point being, content doesn’t have to abide by a uniform code, at least it didn’t. Perhaps, most of us just do not have enough time to do so anymore. Which is a real shame.

In my first official “issue”, I’ll focus in on Friction Magazine. One of my earliest exposures to highbrow cultural thinking and writing on the internet not by the New Yorker or the New York Times.

Until next time, see you at Dead Zines #1.

Billy Ho
The Marshalltown / Sound the Sirens Magazine