Books, boxing and beauty: Eye of the beholder

CB Forrest

Critics have been predicting the death of the book industry for decades, and even louder voices long ago foretold the end of boxing. But somebody forgot to tell Hamilcar Publications, a publishing house of out Boston putting out some of the finest books ever published on the deep, dark and always complex subject of the sweet science.

Run by two childhood friends who share a reverence for beautifully designed physical books and the sport of boxing, Hamilcar is carving out a niche all its own with critically-acclaimed titles like Sporting Blood: Tales from the Dark Side of Boxing features stunning black and white photography set against Carlos Acevedo’s lucid, mesmerizing prose. The house is also bringing a keen new eye to a sport that has been written about exhaustively by literary lions like Norman Mailer and George Plimpton, and of course Hemingway. In the just-released Bundini: Don’t Believe The Hype, by Todd Snyder, we get to see Muhammad Ali’s longtime cheerleader Drew ‘Bundini’ Brown in a completely fresh light. In fact, we find out that Brown played nothing less than a crucial role in developing Ali’s spirit and fuelling his rise to the top (not to mention coining the iconic phrase ‘float like a butterfly, sting like a bee’ which would be worth millions if Don Draper had pitched it). This book also features a striking cover and gorgeous typography to support the well-crafted prose.     

 “I understood beautiful book design from a young age,” Hamilcar’s publisher, Kyle Sarofeen, tells me during a video call from his home on a muggy October afternoon in Boston. After spending his formative years more interested in Saturday night fights than books and academics, Sarofeen says he caught the book bug around 20. “I started to notice the aesthetic, the look and the feel of a really well-made book.”

His first job in publishing was in a production role. Sarofeen says his first manager was “this old-school book guy who introduced me to these meetings of The Society of Printers, this group of really seasoned print guys who’d meet in this old town house on Beacon Hill.” Like a young fighter collecting invaluable tricks of the trade from older fighters in the gym, Sarofeen absorbed it all. 

 “I wanted to be a book designer back then but to earn a living I got pigeon-holed in the industry to some extent,” Sarofeen says. “But I had definite ideas about what beautiful books can look like.”

He went on to hold several positions at major publishing houses that gave him invaluable experience handling everything “from manuscript to bound book”. As robust as the talent was across the publishing industry, he also knew there was a unique opportunity forming in his heart and mind.

“The idea occurred to me that nobody really knew anything about boxing. I knew about books and I knew about boxing,” he says. “In my gut I knew it was an unusual combination, and if I could get the right pieces it would be powerful.”

Timing, luck and talent are important in both publishing and boxing, but so too is having the right partner in your corner. Ali had Bundini. Duran had Arcel. Tyson had D’Amato. Sarofeen says that in order for his vision to come to life he needed the right partner who would back up his book and boxing knowledge with deeper business strategy experience.  

“I had the idea, but I needed a partner. It was all kind of serendipity,” he says. “I got together with a friend I’ve known since we were 14.”

Enter Andy Komack, Hamilcar’s Managing Director, and just the kind of sharp business mind Sarofeen needed to get things rolling. After building and selling a digital marketing agency, Komack worked with some of the most entrepreneurial companies in the Boston area, including DraftKings, where he created over forty partnerships with some of the most-recognized brands in sports.

At this point, Sarofeen picks up the new Bundini book and refers to a quote attributed to the man who helped shape The Greatest. “’If you’re born to do something, it’s very easy’. In terms of what we’re doing, I feel completely confident about it.”

As if to underline his point, he reaches to find a copy of the much-hyped book releasing Oct. 20 about the meteoric rise and tragic end of Hector Camacho, easily one of the most flamboyant fighters of the 1980s. Handsome, fast, and with a penchant for gold chains and gelled hair, Camacho backed up his showmanship by winning titles in three weight divisions. Macho Time, written by the legendary Christian Giudice (Hands of Stone), features eye-popping gold embossing across the cover and yes, leopard print book casing.  

“I saw the WBC belt in the cover photo, and I was like oh man, let’s hit this with gold foil,” Sarofeen says with enthusiasm and pride. “You look at this book and you know it’s Macho time.”

Macho Time has received early praise from Publisher’s Weekly and Library Journal, indications that Hamilcar’s intention to meld form and function is paying off.

“We have access to a lot of data and dashboards, and we know that our customers prefer ink on paper. And we’re investing in the whole package for them. The design, the writing, the distribution.” But it’s early rounds yet. Sarofeen feels the group is just getting started. With a specialty ‘noir themed’ true crime line performing well, and several exciting books in the pipeline, Hamilcar is ready to go the distance.

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