Jason Olson, Deseret Morning News
Lance Cpl. Leon Howes is sketched on Saturday by comics illustrator Howard Tayler during a "Heroes and Toys for Tots" charity event at the Dragons Keep comic book store in Provo.

PROVO — Michael Barbeau exchanged a stuffed animal for a teddy bear.

The stuffed animal, which Barbeau purchased for the U.S. Marines' Toys for Tots foundation, will end up in the arms of a little boy he does not know. The teddy bear image, illustrated and signed by local comic book illustrator Howard Tayler, will end up on Barbeau's wall.

It took only an hour Saturday for die-hard gamers and comic book fans to stuff a Toys for Tots box full at Dragons Keep, 131 N. University Ave. It was the shop's first such charity event, and about 25 people donated toys. In exchange for toys, they received signed pictures from local comic book illustrators.

"One person came in with two bags" of toys, said employee Peter Sturdivant. "People did what they could to help."

Barbeau spotted the stuffed animal recently while shopping. He thought it was something he would have wanted as a little boy and purchased it. The signed Tayler picture was only icing for donating to the cause, Barbeau said.

"I requested this specific picture" of the teddy bear, Barbeau said, "because he's one of the more unique characters" in Tayler's Schlock Mercenary comic series.

In August, Dragons Keep moved to a new storefront space in downtown Provo. New management took over shortly after, and the charity event is part of an effort to reinvent its image as more family-centered, Sturdivant said.

Dragons Keep is about 15 years old. It sells comic books, miniature figurines and other items for fantasy games. Many of the fantasy games are based on comic books series.

About half the people who donated to Toys for Tots were regular customers; the other half were fans of the illustrators who heard about the event on the Internet.

The event was also to draw attention to Provo's gaming community, of which many people are unaware, Sturdivant said.

Customers and Dragons Keep employees joked about the stereotypes of "gamers" — they're all men, don't date, lack social skills and other hobbies.

"Most of them (his customers) don't fit the stereotype," said Dragons Keep manager Jason Freston. "The stereotypes are the vocal minority."

Like the silver screen, people get into comic books and fantasy games because they offer escape and entertainment. Comic books offer more plot development than movies because new 32-page books are released each month, Freston said.

Games are appealing to some people because they can act out the fantasy instead of observing it as they would through a movie or comic book, he said.

E-mail: lhancock@desnews.com