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Dragon Wagon Is Ready to Roll

Tue, 05/28/2024 - 12:25
Andy Piver and the Dragon Wagon will soon be bringing comic books and art to a street near you. 
Denis Hartnett Photos

Coming to streets near you as early as this summer is the Dragon Wagon, created and driven by Andy Piver. This nonprofit comic book shop on wheels is here to promote children’s literacy, raise money for four-year college scholarships, and provide a free space that kids can go to have fun and be exposed to new and exciting forms of art.

Growing up in East Bridgewater, Mass., Mr. Piver frequented comic book shops. His favorite was a little hole-in-the-wall place in Whitman, just a bike ride away from his house, “I spent 10 years going on weekly comic book hunts there,” he said. “The guy who ran the shop was amazing.” A favorite memory of his is when the owner gave him a bootlegged VHS of “Akira,” a seminal manga (a distinctive style of comic books published in Japan) that was made into a movie in 1988, which he admittedly kept for longer than he was supposed to. “I must have watched it six times, at least, and we didn’t even own a VCR,” he said. 

At Syracuse University, where he would also meet his future wife, Lauren, Mr. Piver studied illustration and graphic design. That creative, art-centered mind is still at work today. On a shelf in one of the Dragon Wagon’s windows is a sample of the custom pin-buttons that Mr. Piver makes himself. He takes pieces of pages from manga or comic books and seals them within the button. The sample button that he has right now is of the famous manga and anime character Goku from “Dragon Ball.”

The interior of the 1993 Toyota Dyna has been turned into a comic-book library.

 

Mr. Piver is also a comic book writer himself, specializing in science fiction stories. “I’ve written stories about a character named Seek,” he said. “He’s an alien eye that lives in a space suit that teams up with a human girl to save the world.”

Mr. Piver spent a few years living in California. However, since both he and his wife’s families are from the East Coast, fate would draw them back as well. “Her parents called and said, ‘Why don’t you come back and spend the summer in the Hamptons,’ ” Mr. Piver said, “And it just felt like ‘Let’s do it and make some money.’ And we got here and I didn’t really want to leave.”

Since 1999, they have lived on the South Fork, raising two sons in Springs. In their early time Mr. Piver worked for Hampton Mortgage Corp. in Amagansett. “Basically I fell into the mortgage business,” he said. “I was a young kid starting a family, and I was in the mortgage business for 15 or 20 years. I left the business a couple years ago, and it’s better for me to not be in the business because it’s very high stress.”

This led him to pursuing the project that came to be known as the Dragon Wagon.

Instantly recognizable, the Dragon Wagon itself is a 1993 Toyota Dyna imported from Japan, and formerly used as a library truck. Mr. Piver bought it and drove it up himself from Tennessee, but he admitted that driving it was an adjustment, as the Dragon Wagon is a right-side manual vehicle with several of its directions written in Kanji.

Mr. Piver had originally thought of calling the van the House Wagon to honor Akira Toriyama, a prolific manga artist and author most well-known for creating “Dragon Ball.” He died earlier this year. “He was known for his vehicles,” Mr. Piver said, “and one of the first vehicles in the comic books was basically this mobile home which he drew based off of a Dyna or a Toyota Hiace mobile home.”

That changed, however, when a friend came to dinner. “So she was telling us,” Mr. Piver said, “how she was born in the Year of the Dragon. And that this year was her 12th Year of the Dragon that she’s been alive for, and that this one in particular was the year of the wooden dragon.” The symbol of the dragon kept coming up in reference to the vehicle, and according to Mr. Piver “everyone was like ‘just call it the Dragon Wagon; it sounds so cool!’ ” So the name stuck, and Mr. Piver has embraced it. “I didn’t choose the name, it chose me,” he said. 

Mr. Piver has been inspired by a variety of influences: science fiction and comic books, as well as his family. Because of this he is a big proponent of letting kids experience ideas and concepts that may be considered above their level, as this was his experience.

“One day my grandmother handed me ‘The Lord of the Rings’ and ‘Dune,’ ”  he said, “I was in fifth grade at the time and that helped make me into a big

reader.” Additionally he was a big fan and collector of the Frank Miller and Klaus Janson run of the Marvel superhero Daredevil comics.

Part of the reason he loves to read so much is “because the movie in your head is always better than the movie on the screen.” It’s an idea he has tried to pass on to his sons.

He has also been inspired by watching the mentors in his family help a younger generation in their own businesses. His father, who worked on aircraft for the Air National Guard, “was a big mentor to people,” Mr. Piver said, “and when he passed away it was incredible to see all the people who said ‘yeah man that guy gave me a word of advice when I needed it.’ “

For Mr. Piver the Dragon Wagon is a vehicle, no pun intended, for sharing what he loves and inspiring the next generation. “I just thought about promoting literacy and keeping kids reading,” he said, “all the stuff that’s important and makes a great community. This is stuff that I think is important and hopefully I’ll get some support from the town.”

At this point, he does not yet have firm locations for where the Dragon Wagon will set up shop, but he has a vision going forward. “I’m not looking to be everywhere,” he said, “but if I can find a spot on Wednesdays, which is new comic book day, and Saturday mornings, a place to hang out, draw, maybe play some Dungeons and Dragons, and talk geek stuff with my fellow geeks, I’d be all for it.”

Mr. Piver plans to host other local artists on the truck as well, providing a platform for them to showcase their work while also showing kids the different ways that people approach art.

Mr. Piver has three such artists ready to roll this summer: Jackie DeVito, Max Rodgers, and Kieran Conlon.

One of the main goals right now is gathering inventory, by his count he most likely needs around 800 to 1,000 comic books and sci fi/fantasy novels to fill his shelves. The optimal scenario would be to give away as many books as he can, while accepting donations that can be put toward a college scholarship fund.

His dream would be to give out $10,000 four-year scholarships. “I was first thinking that they should be arts based,” Mr. Piver said, “but I think that kids can change their minds at 18 years old. Why do you need to know what you want to do for a scholarship? Go to college and figure out what you want to do.”

Currently Mr. Piver is working on finding the right platform to receive direct monetary donations. He is accepting donations of comic books, graphic novels, manga, kids books, or sci-fi/fantasy novels for the shelves. The Dragon Wagon can be found on Instagram, at @dragonwagonbooks, or online at dragonwagonbooks.org.

In an age where there are fewer and fewer free public spaces for young people to go, Mr. Piver wants to create a space where kids can explore their passions. “I think if you can be there when a kid gets interested in something to say, ‘You should keep doing that,’ maybe that’s all it takes for somebody. Somebody who’s not your mom or dad to say, ‘Hey do what you want. Do what you love.’ “

 

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