When Castle Rock graphic artist and comic creator Michael Sincavage talks about his new zine, Tactical Hand Cream, he does so with a slight glint in his eye — maybe because the title is purposefully coy. After all, the memoir narrative has nothing to do with hand cream, tactical or otherwise. “I’m a fan of the non sequitur,” explains Sincavage. “And I like working with acronyms, too.”
So Tactical Hand Cream stands for THC — a very Colorado reference. His imprint and website, Casual Dry Cleaning, is CDC, though he claims that the name pre-dates COVID and the prevalence of that governmental institution. “I’m attracted to how catchy those things are,” Sincavage says. “The meanings they bring are both complex and familiar, and change what the expectation is going to be.”
Subverting expectations is exactly what Sincavage is looking to do with his work. “Tactical Hand Cream is made up of drawings from observations,” he says, “satiric takes on current events. Firearms, schools, kids, being a dad in the suburbs and general suburban paranoia.” Sincavage, who grew up in Florida and met his wife while living in Brooklyn, says he likes to go for runs in his neighborhood, and that when he does, he’s been stunned by the sheer proliferation of pro-gun bumperstickers: “The NRA, slogans about daring someone to take their guns or crying liberal tears — all this alongside strong gun imagery.
“And the Punisher,” Sincavage adds, referring to the Marvel anti-hero who has a strong vengeful streak and an arsenal he’s more than happy to deploy on the bad guys, whose symbol is seen on pro-gun bumperstickers, as well. “As a little bit of a comic nerd, I’m like, you haven’t even read those books, have you?” Not that the Punisher is anti-gun, but the matter is more nuanced than the bumperstickers might suggest. Marvel Comics has walked a very fine line with the character for years now, since gun-related school violence has risen sharply among the very set of readers they’re trying to attract. But since the gun lobby co-opted the Punisher’s symbol — a white death’s-head skull that, to those who don’t know about the Punisher, signals less “Second Amendment Rights” and more the maturity level of an angsty thirteen-year-old — Marvel responded, changing the original logo emblazoned on their character’s chest.
“I guess I’ve just gotten concerned,” Sincavage says. He wasn’t raised with guns, and doesn’t understand the cultural importance of them, let alone in the Castle Rock suburbs. “Now I’m surrounded by a community that values guns greatly. I’ve had this realization of place, I think. I’m no longer in a New York City echo chamber. I need to be sensitive to what other people think, have a little more awareness of the world outside my own experience.”
The town of Castle Rock is central to Sincavage’s zine — a product of place that’s more common in large metropolitan areas. “In New York, people make art about the street they live on,” he says. “Paul Simon wrote songs about Bleeker Street, the Ramones about 53rd and 3rd. Every block in NYC, it seems like someone wrote a book or a song or something about it. You come to Colorado, and that’s not as true. So it seemed like the thing to do. I wanted to recognize the weirdness of Castle Rock. The blue up there, the red down there, and everything in between. I don’t think anyone on any side would recognize how weird it is. So it was partially that.”
Sincavage and his wife have two boys, now ages six and two, and he’s just started the process of sending the oldest to school. “The idea of more guns being a solution to gun violence concerns me as a father,” he says. “So I’m exploring that through my drawing. Introspection. Analyzing those inner fears of what could happen. I’m imagining kids, instead of buying a Nirvana shirt or one with the Beatles, they wear shirts devoted to Smith & Wesson — that becoming normal. Am I okay with that? If I show these drawings to other people, are they okay with that?”
Sincavage worries specifically about what he calls “combat culture,” and how it’s seeming to spread. “Everything is so much more confrontational than it used to be,” he says. “It’s all about prying a gun out of cold, dead hands. That’s alarming to me.”
In response to all of those concerns, Sincavage began sketching in his journal here and there — just a little at first, but Tactical Hand Cream sort of seemed to build itself as he progressed. “I’m not trying to preach,” he insists, “and I certainly don’t want to be a conspiracy theorist. So the goal is to be thoughtful and introduce concepts. Any good comic book is a launch pad for ideas. That’s essentially what I’m trying to do.”
That’s Sincavage’s plan going forward, as well — launching various ideas through the medium of sequential art. “I’d like to make a bunch of zines,” he says, “not all about anxiety and firearms, but exploring other things, telling short stories. There’s a lot to talk about; this is just the first conversation it occurred to me to have.”
Tactical Hand Cream is available now through zine retailers and at Sincavage’s website or casualdrycleaning.com.