Oregon-born writer, artist and printer George Hitchcock (1914–2010) was a prolific publisher/poet whose work helped shape the small-press revolution of the 1960s. In 1964, he founded Kayak, a literary journal which he edited, printed, and bound himself. Kayak was in publication for 20 years.
Kayak, both the journal and publishing imprint, possessed the beauty and fanciful recklessness that is found in many of the best independent publishing endeavors, proving that creativity, frugality, and resourcefulness can overcome budgetary constraints with striking results.
Hitchcock's main production press was a 1940s Multi 1250 offset press that he had acquired after it had been retired by the United States Merchant Marine. George Hitchcock's printed work was spontaneous and whimsical. His sometimes percipitous disregard of technical printing standards created its own kind of beauty. On some forms it appears as if he didn't bother with an ink fountain but instead directly inked the rollers, perhaps even replenishing with a different color of ink as the run progressed. The use of split fountain is common throughout the printed work, and starved ink in areas only adds to the charm and reading experience. Each piece, even within a single print edition, is unique, and each of those printed pieces is alive with the story of its production.
Recently I had the opportunity to spend time at my new favorite bookstore in Portland, Divison Leap. Division Leap has most of the Kayak journals and published works in its collection, as well as a couple original George Hitchcock paintings on display. Seeing all the Kayak work in one place was amazing. The sheer volume of what was produced in Hitchcock's "printing shed" using just a couple of modest but good presses is astounding.
I learned through Jim Carmin, special collections librarian and co-curator of the exhibition Unsinkable Genius: The Surreal Voyage of George Hitchcock & Kayak Magazine, that after Kayak ceased publication in the early 1980s, the Multi 1250 was purchased by poet Robert McDowell. McDowell went on to use the same press to produce many issues of his own literary journal, The Reaper. With all that wonderful work in its history, I wonder what that trusty old Multilith is up to now.