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AWKWARDLY, JAMES JEAN rises from his book signing table, approaches the guy who had motioned for a hug and embraces him. The crowd cheers, while others cup their mouths in gleeful surprise. A tiny smile breaks on Jean?s face. The fan?s smile is even wider.

These James Jean fans got what they wanted?and much more.

?I hugged him because he?s cool,? says the guy who hugged Jean at Fully Booked High Street in Global City, Taguig.

?We?ve been fans since ever!? a girl friend says, hyperventilating. ?He smells like a winner,? chimes in another with a grin. ?Yeah!? Hugger Guy agrees, his smile oozing delight. They skip off, clutching signed books and prints like holy artifacts.

Meet and greet

Fully Booked gave Jean?s admirers what they dreamed of: a chance to meet the artist, engage him in small talk, ask for sketches and immortalize the moment in photos. Managing Director Jaime Daez sat dutifully next to Jean throughout the day-long event.

?I approached James to visit Manila at (San Diego) Comic Con last year. He wondered if there were enough fans here,? said Daez, chuckling.

A fan has also asked Jean to visit Cebu.

?It?s quite obvious he has a lot of fans here. He signed for a hundred people at (Subic) Ad Congress,? said Daez.

On the second floor, people are looking at the menagerie bellow. A vast line of people snaked through the aisles, spiraling to where the artist was signing and sketching.

How is his right hand doing? Jean replied, ?Okay,? before shaking a silver marker for ink.

Fully Booked allowed only four books per person, making fans devise shrewd strategies. ?My friend is bringing my other books with him,? said a fan. ?Since they?re only allowing four, I?ll get my friend to have my other books signed!?

Those who couldn?t afford Jean?s books were undaunted: one fan printed a screen capture of Jean?s blog and bashfully asked him to sign it. He promptly did.

The fans waited vigilantly into the night. One had been in line for three hours. Would he wait three more hours?

?Why not? He?s here in Manila?it?s once in a lifetime,? he said.

Creative process

The first day of book signing coincided with the first day of the World Pyrolympics in the same area. At one point, Jean took a break to catch the fireworks. When he returned, he sat down and got back to work. Fans hardly minded his absence.

His Nov. 23 talk at the Fine Arts Building of College of Saint Benilde was also well-attended. There, he shared his creative process, displaying paintings and art for a movie starring Oscar winner Ellen Paige.

During the open forum, the last question he got was: ?What shampoo do you use? Because you have awesome hair.?

Jean laughed with the audience and said, ?I honestly don?t use any.?

?Enjoy the Pyrolympics,? was Jean?s way of bidding goodbye at the end of the interview. It was a fitting send-off from a master who has created fireworks of the artistic and emotional kind.