Manga and cartooning artist Russell Merritt spoke before a crowd of about 15 students Friday afternoon at the Grove City Library.

Manga and cartooning artist Russell Merritt spoke before a crowd of about 15 students Friday afternoon at the Grove City Library.

He said artists have many tools at their disposal.

But, he added "the greatest tool of any artist is "

"Imagination," offered 13-year-old Nadia Cox, chiming in with excitement.

"Yes, exactly," Merritt said, getting back on his mental train of thought. "Imagination is the most important tool of any artist."

Merritt paid a visit to the Grove City Library to speak to the Anime-Manga Club about Japanese art and its influences on the Japanese style of cartooning called anime, and its comic-book counterpart, manga.

Manga, Merritt said, is a Japanese word first used in 1840.

"It's a wonderful world that goes back to the block printers of Japan," he said.

The term manga, however, was mostly unfamiliar until after World War II, when members of the U.S. military brought to Japan American-style comic books.

The two worlds collided and a new form of art and entertainment began to take shape.

"It was kind of like Reese's peanut butter," Merritt said.

By the 1960s, "Astro Boy" was released as one of the first anime, which originated as a manga by Osamu Tezuka in 1952, Merritt said.

While travelling on the famous rail lines of downtown Tokyo, young kids and older businessmen alike read manga, Merritt said.

In Grove City, the club is filled with mostly teenagers, ages 14 to 18.

"It's been one of the best clubs for teens," said Lore Lehr, youth services librarian. "A lot of the kids are incredibly talented, art-wise. Having an artist come to help hone that talent, I thought, was a great idea."

Through a partnership between Southwest Public Libraries, Worthington Libraries and the Columbus Metropolitan Library, Lehr was able to find Merritt, "the best of the best," she said.

Merritt also gave the children pointers on drawing people, especially in the manga style.

"We all think in pictures," Merritt said. "Telling your stories is taking your dreams and putting them in picture form."

By imitating drawings found in an ancient cave in Lascaux, France, Merritt further illustrated his point that pictures are the oldest language.

Many teens soon became daunted by the thought of the task of putting their imagination on paper.

"Saying, 'I can't,' is self-defeating," Merritt insisted. "The Japanese say, jozu ja arimasen, which means, 'I am not skilled yet.' "

Merritt told students not to fall into the brain-numbing lie of saying "I can't."

Currently Merritt is an artist, a teacher of art and part owner of a comic book shop in Newark.

His first piece was sold to TeeVee Magazine 30 years ago.

The Anime-Manga Club meets every other Wednesday at 2 p.m. during the summer at the Grove City Library.