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A New Book Publishing House Devoted to Boxing clocks in with a Classic

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  • A New Book Publishing House Devoted to Boxing clocks in with a Classic

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    By Arne K. Lang

    It goes without saying that these are perilous times for the print media industry. It wasn’t long ago that one could walk through an airport and find most folks sitting in the waiting rooms devouring a magazine, a book or a newspaper. Nowadays they are glued to their electronic device.

    Many of America’s grand old book publishing houses have disappeared. They either closed down or, more likely, were swallowed up by one of the Big 5 (HarperCollins, Macmillan, Hatchette, Penguin Random House, and Simon and Schuster). But the publishing industry is far from dead. Vanity presses never went away and there has actually been a sharp surge in the number of niche publishers, a development fueled in large part by lower production costs.

    Among the newbies is Hamilcar Publictions, a small press in Boston that specializes in boxing. Their initial offering, released in October of last year, was a reissue of "Off the Ropes: The Ron Lyle Story" by Candace Toft. Then came the big enchilada, the first U.S. edition of Donald McRae’s “Dark Trade: Lost in Boxing.” Now up to 552 pages with the addition of a new chapter, McRae’s opus, originally published in 1997, has been hailed as one of the best boxing books of all time. There are 12 more titles in various stages of development, three of which will be released this year.

    Hamilcar Publications was co-founded by Kyle Sarofeen and Andy Komack, former classmates -- they have known each other since eighth grade – in the little seaport town of Rockport, Massachusetts. They have complementary skill sets. Sarofeen spent 15 years in the book publishing business, working in various capacities for several of the largest firms in the Boston area. He’s familiar with what he calls the carpentry of book manufacturing, the process by which a m****cript is turned into a book. Andy Komack’s background is in marketing and advertising. He was formerly affiliated with DraftKings.

    Since their early teens, Kyle and Andy have followed boxing religiously. Both were big fans of Marvin Hagler.

    Sarofeen subsequently became a fan of James Toney. That eventually led to his hookup with Donald McRae, a prolific writer with varied interests who has authored several more boxing books plus books about pioneering heart surgeon Christiaan Bernard and the famous trial lawyer Clarence Darrow, among others.

    “Dark Trade” focuses on the boxing scene in the U.S. and the U.K. in the 1990s. McRae was granted unprecedented access to some of the leading fight personalities of the era and from these fraternizations he crafted deep and revealing profiles of such men as Mike Tyson, Roy Jones Jr, Chris Eubank, Michael Watson, Naseem Hamed, Oscar De La Hoya, Evander Holyfield, Bob Arum and Don King. But he became particularly close to James Toney and Toney’s resourceful mother Sherry who started a successful pie-making business in Ann Arbor, Michigan. If this book were a movie, it would be an ensemble piece in which James “Lights Out” Toney emerges as the lead character.

    Kyle Sarofeen sent an e-mail to Donald McRae and received a warm reply. “We hit it off right away,” says Kyle, a rapport spurred by their mutual admiration for James Toney. Sarofeen would learn that “Dark Trade,” originally published by Mainstream and then acquired by Simon and Schuster, had never been released in the United States which was odd as many of the scenes take place in the U.S., mostly against the backdrop of the Las Vegas Strip, an adult arcade that McRae writes about with delicious perceptions.

    Sarofeen and McRae were in concordance that the book needed a new chapter. What McRae delivered was a 49-page tailpiece that includes profiles of Floyd Mayweather Jr, Tyson Fury, and Carl Frampton plus return visits with such notables as Mike Tyson, the inspirational Michael Watson and, inevitably, his great friend James Toney. The reunion was awkward. In his early interviews with the boxer, Toney, says McRae, spoke “with a drawling, almost mumbling swagger,” but yet with clarity and wit. Now the words that came out of his mouth “sounded muffled and slurred. It became impossible to ignore the damage done to him by twenty-five years in the professional ring.”

    The first edition of “Dark Trade” had Evander Holyfield on the cover. The Hamilcar edition, it was agreed, needed Toney on the cover and an artist, Amanda Kelley, was commissioned to paint his portrait. It depicts Toney with a slick, dark green hoodie, a portion of which slinks down over his left eye. Underneath his stoicism is an undercurrent of menace.

    For all his fistic achievements, James Toney, a surefire Hall of Famer, remains a cult figure. Folks with no interest in boxing cam identify Evander Holyfield. It’s doubtful that James Toney’s name would ring a bell. “And that’s the difference between us and a big publishing house,” Sarofeen told me. “The big houses are generalists. They would never put a James Toney on the cover.”

    “Dark Trade,” noted an astute reviewer, is best read in pieces. Unfortunately, there is no index, not that one would have expected one from a non-fiction book that reads like a series of novellas.

    In the Pipeline

    The next book off the Hamilcar conveyor belt is a re-issue of British boxing writer Kevin Mitchell’s 2009 “Jacobs Beach: The Mob, the Garden, and the Golden Age of Boxing.” From that point on, the slate consists of previously unpublished works, starting with Don Stradley’s “Berserk,” a bio of Edwin Valero that Sarofeen calls a little masterpiece.

    This will be a paperback that will be translated into Spanish for the Hispanic, Latino, and Argentine markets and will be the first salvo of a “Boxing Noir” series, a series of little books that cover the seamy side of boxing. Another book in the series, Patrick Connor’s “Shot at a Brothel,” is about the life of Oscar Bonavena. It has a tentative June 2020 release date. Also in the queue are works by Carlos Acevedo, Paul Zanon, Jimmy Tobin, Tris Dixon, Charles Farrell, Todd Snyder, and Christian Giudice among others.

    A South Jersey native, fluent in Spanish, Giudice is best known for his biography of Roberto Duran, the template for the film “Hands of Stone.” The book, notes Kyle Sarofeen, sold considerably more in Great Britain than in the U.S. “That told us that something was going on (over there),” says Kyle, “in terms of the UK being a big market for us -- which was something we suspected, but hadn't recognized fully before then.”

    Sarofeen is particularly enthused about Todd Snyder’s forthcoming book, a biography of Drew “Bundini” Brown, the street-wise Harlem curbstone philosopher who spent seven years with Sugar Ray Robinson before becoming Muhammad Ali’s loyal companion and hype man. Bundini is credited with giving Ali the line, “Float Like a Butterfly, Sting Like a Bee.” Some recognize Ali as America’s first rapper.

    Sarofeen, who had written about Bundini and knew that there were many layers to the man, chose Todd Snyder to write the book. Snyder is familiar with boxing – his father, a West Virginia coal miner, ran a boxing gym – and familiar with the world of hip-hop. At Siena College where he is an assistant professor of English, Snyder teaches a class where hip-hop lyrics are analyzed as if they were poetry.

    Sarofeen thinks that the Bundini book, slated for release in the late summer or early fall of 2020, will have crossover appeal. How does a librarian classify it? Should it be shelved with the boxing books, or in the American Studies section, or perhaps with the books on African-American history?

    Starting a book publishing company in this day and age where many of the established firms are scrambling to stay relevant in the face of massive technological shifts, will strike many as quixotic. However, Kyle Sarofeen and Andy Komack started this venture with their eyes wide open and no illusions about getting rich quick. For them, Hamilcar is a labor of love, a way of enriching the impressive body of literature that girds their favorite sport.

    We wish them well.

    Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel

  • #2
    Kyle Sarofeen is a savvy guy