Jason Witten sends MADD message in comic

PHILADELPHIA -- There's a MADD Cowboy on the loose at Riverdale High, but that's no reason to panic.

The cowboy in question is Jason Witten, tight end for the NFL's Dallas Cowboys. And he's talking about the dangers of underage drinking as part of a Mothers Against Drunk Driving program that appeals not to just Archie, Jughead and the others, but to teenagers and parents in the real world, too.

"The whole idea here is prevention. To prevent kids from drinking," Victor Gorelick, president and editor-in-chief of Archie Comics, told The Associated Press. "But a lot of parents know that this can be a big problem with teenagers, yet they have problems talking to their kids."

So, in a bid to help bridge that gap, MADD contacted Archie Comics about PowerTalk 21, an April 21 national event that seeks to have parents talking to their children about underage drinking.

"One of the things that was discussed was the possibility of doing a story, involving Jason Witten," Gorelick said. "Riverdale is his first stop and that he's going to other schools, too."

And that's what transpires in "Archie Double Digest" No. 217, out this week in comic shops, which opens with prom around the corner and plans for a party with parents out of town.

"We've always tried to keep Archie up with the times," Gorelick said. "The story is not that long -- only about eight pages, and it's entertaining, but it gets the message across at the same time."

That message is a frank and open talk about the perils of peer pressure and underage drinking, an issue that MADD CEO Kimberly Earle told AP was crucial in getting to teens and young adults.

"It's been a fantastic partnership and a fantastic way to get the word out," she said of PowerTalk 21, adding they were able to "reach a whole new audience."