Creative and cultural industries: The economic impacts of Comic Con Africa

By Terena Chetty 

Socio-economic development for the continent is dependent on integrated growth across various sectors. Worldwide, creative sector growth is on the rise. Last year, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) estimated cultural and creative industries global worth at 4.3 trillion US dollars per annum. In terms of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), cultural and creative industries are a driving force behind inclusive economic goals, and achieving national objectives related to the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), stresses that African countries need to do more to support local creatives and ensure that African audiences are more aware of and consume an increased quantity of creative and cultural products and services from Africa. Growing cultural and creative industries is another avenue for African entrepreneurs to leverage their local knowledge, skills, and cultural diversity to create innovative services catering to the diverse needs of African consumers and businesses.

When it comes to creatives, innovators, entrepreneurs and businesses, industry conventions and events are vital to access to markets and networking. Comic Con Africa, the continental installment of the international Comic Con brand, is one of the largest creative industry events in Africa. Hailed as “the ultimate pop culture and gaming festival”, the entertainment value of the event is undeniable. But what significance does such an event hold in terms of socio-economic impacts – both for South Africa and the continent at large?

The Event

The inaugural Comic Con Africa event was first held in 2018, with alternating annual shows in Cape Town and Johannesburg. 2023 is a landmark occasion for the festival as it is the first time two Comic Con Africa events will take place in the same year (with the Cape Town 2023 edition having taken place in April this year).

This month, Johannesburg will host the 2023 Gauteng edition of Comic Con Africa. The massive four-day convention comprises vast exhibition areas, a gaming expo section, a “Kids Con” area and staging areas hosting cosplay competitions, international guests, notable speakers and more. Activities include immersive experiences (such as online and table-top gaming), dress-up cosplay competitions, the opportunity to see local and international speakers, photo opportunities, and, of course, lots and lots of shopping.

Showcase of Africa’s Creative Industry and Artists

As one of the largest creative industry events on the continent, Comic Con Africa serves as a platform to showcase Africa’s talent and creativity. This includes artists across various genres – from sketch artists to painters; from textile and clothing art to handmade crafts, talented creatives from across the continent are able to show off their products and have access to relevant buyer segments. Over and above the various stalls situated throughout the expo area, the convention includes a built-in “Artist Alley”, a bustling hub dedicated to art and creativity in its various forms.

There is an element of knowledge-share as established artists and creators interact with up-and-coming local talent. Insightful workshops, presentations and panel discussions aim to empower, upskill and inspire creative talent.

The exposure opportunities for budding artists, writers and designers often leads to collaborations, creative commissions and extended customer reach far beyond the convention walls. This further strengthens the future of the creative sector and local artists, creating long-term value and immense potential for talent recognition and future successes.

Tourism & Hospitality:

Host cities can expect an influx of guests and exhibitors over the four-day convention period. This provides a much-welcomed boost for the tourism industry, which is still somewhat in recovery phase following the negative impacts of the pandemic. 2022 statistics show that “out-of-towners” account for 11.4% of Comic Con Africa’s audience, generating notable revenue for accommodation establishments, restaurants, e-hailing services and other hospitality-related businesses.

Job Creation

The hosting of Comic Con Africa creates a wealth of jobs ahead of the kick-off of each event. Event organisers require a vast workforce to put together the event (both in terms of structural and event planning needs), and to ensure it runs smoothly for the duration of the convention. This includes exhibition staff, event coordinators, contractors, marketers, security personnel, parking attendants, cleaners, ushers and more. Organisers expect a crew staff of over 3 000 per day on the show floor.

From an exhibitor perspective, local vendors and exhibitors (both large and small companies) generally require additional staff to assist with sales and managing their exhibition presence at the convention. There is also a rise in B2B elements pre-event, such as exchanges between stand-builders and exhibitors.

This spike in employment opportunities (both temporary and longer term) around the convention positively impacts economies. Furthermore, Comic Con Africa’s long-term vision is to contribute to the growth of vendors, exhibitors, professional brands (such as international cosplayers) and other event participants in a manner conducive to their business expansion, which then leads to more future job creation and economic growth.

Direct Business Impact

Comic Con Africa offers large brands (such as KFC, Telkom, Lego and Toyota SA), small to medium enterprises and even entrepreneurs the opportunity to reach and connect with a highly engaged consumer audience over the four-day convention. This includes direct B2C outcomes (such as direct consumer sales), B2B opportunities (such as brand collaborations) and entrepreneurial growth.

Food and beverage vendors experience an almost non-stop flow of customers. Many exhibitors sell out prior to the end of the weekend as shoppers snap up goods. Exhibitors themselves inject earnings back into the convention’s “economy” by shopping at other stalls. Overall, the event signifies substantial consumer spending and economic stimulation. Comic Con Africa’s Cape Town 2023 stats show that a whopping 97.30% of exhibitors have indicated an intention to participate in next year’s Cape Town event.

Commenting from an exhibitor perspective, Dané Krömker, owner of Chaos Kraft pop culture brand, said: “Comic Con Africa is the biggest platform for the geek community to get together. As the owner of a South African-based small business selling geeky merchandise, it is the biggest sales outlet of the year for me. Not only at the event but also in terms of generating custom orders post-event. But the biggest benefit to me was networking with other vendors at Comic Con Africa – in fact, we now often band together to collaborate and do our own small markets and bring the community together. I have been participating in every Comic Con event in Johannesburg since the very start, and I will definitely be exhibiting this year again.”

Brand Impact and Customer Appetite

Comic Con Africa’s Marketing Manager, Calvin van den Berg, explains the multi-faceted impact created by the brand: “Comic Con Africa carries significant economic impacts through tourism, revenue generation, job creation, stimulation in the creative industry, as well as periodic capital injections for small businesses. We are proud to offer an audience of approximately 80,000 people over the festival days to large companies as well as small and emerging companies. Saturday (23 September), our main event day, is already sold out. So is the weekend pass. The willingness to spend from the fans, and consumer excitement at the show, often leads to smaller businesses that operate in the pop culture niche to experience a mass injection of capital from fan spend that is used to further grow their business.”

Over and above direct bottom-line goals, Comic Con Africa offers an experience unlike any other when it comes to culture, diversity and a sense of belonging. In terms of social barriers, within the confines of the convention, there are little to none. Visitors are encouraged to embrace their individuality, and there is a palpable sense of camaraderie amongst convention-goers. It is definitely a haven for both creatives and businesses alike, and this month’s event is sure to be one of the largest of its kind for the city of Johannesburg to date.


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