In the corner of a coffee shop lies a rarity: a lovingly handmade item chock full of individual works just waiting to be discovered.

The little booklet, printed and stitched by hand, gives anyone who picks it up a glimpse into the local art scene.

The zine — a small-circulation, self-published work of original texts — was created by one Ball State student with a passion for sharing others’ work.

“I think I come from a family of hipsters probably,” said the sophomore who works under the pseudonym Nellie. “I wanted to give a space for people who were creative in the Muncie community to be able to do the things that they’ve kind of been putting on hold for other projects. “

The zine, titled SoapBox, features poems, photography and art from students and Muncie locals. SoapBox has unique features such as pull-out artwork, lithograph prints and, to top it off, a hand-pressed flower in every edition.

Because of all the special features, SoapBox has a small circulation of 50 copies, but Nellie said the low circulation adds to the character of the zine.

“That’s what zines are supposed to be. They’re this kitschy hidden treasure,” Nellie said. “Like you find one, and you’re like, ‘This is one of 50 copies in existence,'” and they’re supposed to be special. In that way, I want people to pass them around because I want people to be like, ‘Look, I found a copy of SoapBox,’ and then enjoy it for what it actually is.”

Peter Davis, an assistant professor of English at Ball State, has had his work published in various literary zines over a span of nearly 15 years. Davis said one of the best parts about a zine is the finality that comes with having one’s work in a physical object, but he said internet publishing does have obvious advantages.

“Online, you have a much huger audience. You know, they’ve got 50 or 60 copies of this thing and that’s just not that many people that are going to be able to see it, whereas online you might have something that has a few thousand clicks a month,” Davis said. “As a fan of physical objects, I like printed copies of things, but I’m also a fan of having as many people read my work as possible.”

Nellie’s coworker, a sophomore working under the name Penn, said while he wasn’t initially on board, the low number of circulation builds excitement around SoapBox.

“When [Nellie] first said we were going to do 50 issues, I said, ‘You’re insane. It’s just too small, there’s just too many people,’” Penn said. “You build sort of a scarcity that also makes it exciting to pick up an issue, or to find an issue, or to have an issue given to you by a friend. That’s sort of what we’re banking on, and I think it’s working.”

To encourage people to pass the zine on, SoapBox has a page in every issue called “Sounding Board” which allows the reader to write his or her thoughts before sharing it with another person.

SoapBox, which has now printed twice, gives readers a small clue to the theme of the issue with Latin text printed in the front. The first edition note translates to “Greatness from small beginnings” and the second says, “Counteract good with evil.”

Nellie said the themes allowed artists to submit pieces on heavier topics such as overcoming addictions, rape, unhealthy love and racial oppression.

“It was a lot of recognizing the evils that have a say in who you are or who you’re perceived to be, and then creating something beautiful out of it anyway,” Nellie said. “There’s a lot of bad things happening, but there are always bad things happening. So it’s about knowing and recognizing there’s struggle, there’s things to be learned from struggle and then, there’s the beauty to be found underneath it.”

While the creators of SoapBox do not use their real names, the artists featured do. Penn said while pseudonyms as an editor are a little unusual in this type of media, using them was almost a no brainer for he and Nellie.

“The reason being is because there’s so much ego around a lot of journalism today —  I mean massive, Kanye West-level egos. We keep ourselves anonymous because this zine is not about us,” Penn said. “It’s about the contributors. It’s about the narrative, it’s about the artistry and it’s about the collective consciousness of the Muncie art scene.

“It’s about providing a platform for those other artists who work tirelessly to create beautiful work to be recognized.”

It’s this idea that Nellie said helps keep her motivated to create the zines, which takes a full day and a whole paycheck.

“For the most part, I don’t want people to have to spend money to read things,” Nellie said. “The last two copies I’ve done have been completely out of pocket. I spend a paycheck on it every few months. It’s a moral upholding, I would rather have ads than have people pay for it.”

Davis said as long as zines are going, artists would have a space to test their work and meet like-minded individuals.

“I think it’s really important for you to know what other people are doing, what your contemporaries are doing, what other people are interested in,” Davis said. “Zines are kind of like the club where everyone meets. Zines are sort of where people are hanging out.”

Nellie is planning on putting out another zine this semester, though the theme isn’t set in stone yet. However, she said the edition will probably have a flower and will definitely be waiting in the corner of a coffee shop for an unsuspecting visitor.

Contact Brynn Mechem with comments at or on Twitter at @BrynnMechem.