Digital comics has become a very hot topic as of late, with both Marvel and DC Comics taking major steps in that direction, but as the digital comics revolution rolls forward, where does the little guy fit in? There's been a lot of talk about how digital will give creators more opportunities to sell their books outside comic book shops, but what kind of opportunities will self-publishers, boutique publishers, or other indie comics outlets really have in this new world?

Today, ComiXology, the leading digital comics distributor, has taken the first step toward answering that question with the advent of their Guided View™ Authoring Tools, which will allow indie creators and publishers the ability to prepare their content for digital sale. The program is currently in limited Alpha release and open to a small subset of publishers, and ComicsAlliance talked to ComiXology CEO David Steinberger about the new tools and how they will impact indie comics.

The Authoring Tools offered to indie creators and publishers will give them the ability to pre-program Guided View navigation of their comics, which allows customers to read digital comics via preset panel by panel movement.The tools will "help level the playing field by giving independent creators and publishers an equal chance for visibility in the digital marketplace through a standard format and ubiquitous platform," according to the press release.

"Creating opportunities for all publishers and independent creators is a major focus for us," said David Steinberger, CEO of comiXology. "The Guided View Authoring Tools program benefits creators and publishers who either are unknown, have limited print distribution through Diamond or have an older property that won't get the shelf space it deserves. We created these tools for ourselves - they are the actual tools we use at comiXology when creating Guided View - and realized the great opportunity for anyone to use them. The tools will give publishers and creators an equal opportunity for visibility, while creating more diverse content for our community to enjoy week after week."

The Alpha release includes publishers like TOKYOPOP, Devil's Due, Arcana Comics and Scott Admunson, creator of Barbarian, and will be followed by a Beta release "sometimes in 2011." The Beta phase will include more creators and publishers, who were encouraged to sign up for a Beta spot at the Comixology website. ComicsAlliance spoke with Comixology CEO David Steinberger about the details.

ComicsAlliance: Right now the Authoring Tools are currently in a limited Alpha phase; how long will that last?

David Steinberger: As long as it takes to make sure we have a stable product. That's a pretty soft answer, I know, but it's a fairly complicated app and we want to get it just right, because we think that we're going to have an avalanche of great content getting submitted when we roll out the final product. The Guided View™ Authoring Tool is just one part of a larger submission program we'll be rolling out next year.

CA: How large is the Alpha phase going to be? Will it be limited to Tokyopop, Devil's Due, Arcana, and Scott Admunson, or are you looking to invite more publishers as time goes on?

DS: We have a few others we've been talking with and will be adding on in the next few weeks. It is a strictly private, closed group, though. When the product is more mature, we will release it to a larger private beta group.

To be considered for the future closed Beta, creators and small publishers can sign up here. We're going to direct everyone who is interested in being a part of the Beta to sign up there rather than email us.

CA: The press release mentions that comics will have to be approved by ComiXology. Is there a set of content guidelines that creators must follow? How strict is this process?

DS: We hope to craft those guidelines as we work through the Alpha version and craft the Beta version of the tool. The requirements, as we've talked internally about them, are pretty simple at the moment: professionally created work that will stand up well next to the content we already have for sale.

CA: Is beginning with Alpha and Beta phases, rather than an entirely open release, intended to suss out bugs in the system, or is it intended to be used to figure out the logistics of how to run an iTunes-like store, in terms of submission volume and how long it takes to approve books?

DS: This is about bug and usability testing the tools while we craft the larger submission process. The beta will tackle the internal submission process and volume handling.

CA: How will creators or companies using the Guided View™ Authoring Tools be sorted in the ComiXology store? Will they be under a blanket Self Authoring umbrella, or will they get their own icon in the store?

DS: This will be determined on a case-by-case basis. Independent creators already have a category in our app, called "Creator Owned". We're likely to add a "Small Publisher" category as well before the whole program comes out of beta. We won't identify those books that are "Self Authored" in the store.