BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Saturday was Free Comic Book Day at over 2,000 stores worldwide, however, it also marked an important day for a local comic book publisher, who held a signing during the launch of his line of Buffalo-based heroes at Queen City Bookstore on Main Street.

Tivo Rodriguez launched Erie County Comics at the store this weekend, with the debut of the hero Rustbelt, the iron-plated protector of Erie County. Rodriguez is the author, illustrator and publisher of Erie County Comics.

He expressed his appreciation for the community’s support at the event.

“The outpouring of support has been amazing,” he said. “I’ll tell you, one thing people from Buffalo love is when they show appreciation for the city. Anything that’s Buffalo-based, I think people from Buffalo like to get behind, because I think we all have the same mutual love for our city and like to see it supported and celebrated as much as possible.”

The comic was created in honor of Rodriguez’s grandfather, Amalio Ayala, who also stars in the story, as the man who remotely controls the mechanical powerhouse Rustbelt. Rodriguez told News 4 that when he was younger, Ayala was the one who got him into comics in the first place, taking him to the flea market and comic book store to look around.

“He’d sit out here in the car while I went through the back-issue bins for a couple hours,” Rodriguez said. “He pretty much got me into reading and comics as a lifelong hobby.”

Though Ayala died a few weeks ago at the age of 88, Rodriguez was able to get large printouts of the comic for him to read prior to his passing. Ayala loved it. Rodriguez said what mattered most to him was using his work to show his grandfather what he meant to him.

“Essentially, what I wanted to get across to him, is that he is my hero,” Rodriguez said. “And I wanted to immortalize him in that regard. The highest honor I could probably give somebody, for me, is probably putting them in a comic book.”

In addition to honoring his grandfather, Rodriguez wanted to pay homage to his city.

“I have a passion for comics and a passion for the City of Buffalo,” he said. “So I wanted to put them together, and put something out there for the world, and see what people think about it.”

In addition to Rustbelt, the series will feature Buffalo-themed heroes Roller Queen, Kensington Bailey, The Courier, The 90, and the team of The Brave & Talkin’ Proud. One of those heroes may even make an appearance in the first issue of “RUSTBELT,” but no spoilers here.

Rodriguez said readers who are not familiar with Buffalo may not pick up on some Buffalo deep-cuts and Easter eggs, like Freddies Donuts and the Courier Express, so Buffalonians definitely have an advantage in catching some of the nods to the city he hid in the stories.

Erie County Comics started as a quarantine hobby, and has now produced into a fabulous first issue, with more issues coming soon. Rodriguez said there is no confirmed timeframe on later issues, but he said they’re on the way.

“It was a one-man project, so it did take me about a year to get done,” Rodriguez said. “So there are more coming, but — it’s on the way, I’ll put it that way.”

“RUSTBELT” will be on sale at Queen City Bookstore through June 6, and Rodriguez will have more copies for sale at Buffalo Comicon on May 21.

For more information, visit Erie County Comics’ website at this link.

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