BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Erie County Comics is back with another edition of its Buffalo-inspired superhero comics. Rustbelt, the iron-plated protector of Erie County, made his debut last year in issue #1. Now, publisher Tivo Rodriguez is gearing up to release issue #2 next month.

The issue features the debut of hero Kensington Bailey, as he and titular hero Rustbelt investigate the source of radiation that is making Buffalonians sick. It also features a new Roller Queen story, in which she fights Elroy Economos — the undisputed kingpin of Buffalo — and his cronies.

RUSTBELT #2 comes out May 6 and Rodriguez will be at Queen City Bookstore selling and signing copies. The release once again coincides with Free Comic Book Day, as comic stores across the globe will have various comics available for free as well.

Rodriguez said this issue went much smoother than the first because he learned more about the process from the RUSTBELT #1 — from printing to figuring out how to better sequence the story on the pages — as he started from scratch. He also said he was able to focus more energy on the storytelling aspect of the second comic and make sure the characters were more fleshed-out.

“The first issue was my absolute first time ever even putting pen to paper and trying to actually write something comprehensive and put-together, much less put together a whole comic book,” he said. “If I had known beforehand how many steps it was, I probably would’ve been a little bit more nervous because there were a lot of things I had no idea about.”

The series features many real-life people, most notably Rodriguez’s late grandfather, Amalio Ayala, as the man carrying the Rustbelt mantle. The series was created in honor of Ayala, who helped get Rodriguez into comics in the first place.

Also included are Rodriguez’s family and friends. Rodriguez used photos he took of Buffalo architecture, specifically of the areas featured in the story, to help craft the backdrop of the comic’s art.

“All those streets, even the houses, I went to take pictures on my cellphone to make sure the architecture looked like Buffalo, the streets were Buffalo streets,” he said. “Even the aerial shots, I went on Google Earth and took pictures from above to make it look and feel as much like Buffalo as humanly possible.”

In addition to exterior settings, Rodriguez used the interior of his grandfather’s old house, specifically the basement, to create the world of Erie County Comics.

“My basement looked exactly like that when I was growing up,” he said. “My grandpa had tools strewn throughout the place. Going down to that basement when I was a kid, it was an extremely magical place, essentially a relic of the 80s when they let kids play with tools and nobody cared. I’d just go down there and I’d mess around with stuff in my grandfather’s basement, and he was always super encouraging and would always show me stuff.”

He described how that “magical place” translated to the pages of RUSTBELT.

“When I was putting together the comic, I was thinking that if things were going on (that were) magical in my house that I didn’t know were going on, it would be in that spot — in the basement,” Rodriguez said. “If my grandfather was a superhero genius, that would be his superhero headquarters and his laboratory.”

According to Rodriguez, issues #3 and #4 of RUSTBELT are already in motion.

“I actually took the year to get a little bit ahead of myself, surprisingly. Number 3 is almost completely finished and number 4 is almost done as well,” he said. “I don’t want to blitz the public with it too much, but maybe like every six months. We’ll have a little bit more rapid of a release.”

Rodriguez also teased some upcoming characters in his story, one of whom will be found in the pages of RUSTBELT #2.

“Every book, I try to sneak in a few characters to introduce (them) and then in the next issue, I can explore a little bit more,” he said. “Like in my first issue, Roller Queen popped up in the first story and we expanded on the story in the second issue.”

Rodriguez said his new hero Mist Maiden — a teenager with a Niagara Falls theme — was created to tell stories from a younger perspective. He also teased a superhero team that will debut in the RUSTBELT #3 called The Village, inspired by and based in Buffalo’s Elmwood Village.

“I don’t want to give too much away, but I’m super excited about that,” he said. “I’ve been fleshing out that concept the last couple months and that’s kind of my priority, the focus of my brain.”

Those stopping by Queen City Bookstore on May 6 will be able to purchase RUSTBELT #2 for $3, a set of five postcards for $2, and t-shirts for $15. Rodriguez will be at the store from 12-4 p.m.

Rodriguez also spoke to how the outpouring of support and positivity after the RUSTBELT #1 release last May inspired him to continue publishing comics, saying that it makes him want to work harder and make future issues even better.

“Honestly, I was a little bit nervous about (publishing a comic) for the first time, but all that support propelled me to get the second issue going, and even the third and the fourth,” he said. “The love that has come from people after the project has really knocked me out of my socks.”

Rodriguez said last year, copies of RUSTBELT #1 sold out day one. This year, he is having more copies printed, but still expects high demand. He said if they don’t happen to sell out this year, he anticipates them being available at the store for the remainder of May.

For more information on Erie County Comics, visit the publisher’s website at this link or its Facebook page here.

Adam Duke is a digital producer who has been part of the News 4 team since 2021. See more of his work here.