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A “Strange” Way Forward: How Stranger Things Teaches Us How to Move Forward

So utter chaos is here, or so it seems.  Many of us have felt the rumblings for months and months, like the foreshocks of an earthquake. The beginning of this year came like a cloud, with odd things in a series of unfortunate events.  But we couldn’t just stop everything to pay attention to them, so instead we proceeded as best as we could.  And yet, now, the monsters have awoken and we cannot ignore it.  We must stop, pay attention and figure out what is going on and how to get past it.  Much like this, the Netflix show Stranger Things begins with normal small town life being disrupted by darkness.  Four best friends playing Dungeons and Dragons becomes almost a prophecy of how their lives are unhinged.  As one of the group is abducted in the first episode, we track the responses of each character and the investigation into a new, strange reality. They take us on the adventure from numb, average existence to whole-hearted passion and pursuit.  They teach us that we can stand and fight, even if we are normal, everyday people.  To plan good things with strategy, to be a good friend and to never give up.  Most of all, they teach us how to become the truest form of ourselves. 

When I first saw this show, I knew I was supposed to write about it but I didn’t know how it would all come together.  Then, the the art director of Imaginary Forces (the creaters of the intro for Stranger Things), Alan Williams, came to lecture at SCAD, where he spoke on his theory of motion media design in “The Art of Observation & Resuscitation.  The very language I had been searching for.  I knew I had to go and ask for an interview with him.  As I asked, he put me in touch with Michelle Dougherty, the actual designer of the intro.  

This article is split into two parts, one reflects the important interview with Michelle, who gives some great insight into what it means to be a designer and artist right now.  Part II will focus on the very timely aspects of Stranger Things that spur us toward a truer existence.  May we become awakened and alert. As an artist, may you be unafraid.  You have power.  A warm thank you to Tony Rodriguez, a newer member of SCAD Atlanta’s professor team, for your stunning portrayals of these characters!  They are perfect.  

Stranger Things Intro, by Michelle Dougherty

Part I:  Interview with Creator/Designer, Michelle Dougherty


1. Where are you from and why did you become a designer/artist?  

I always knew that I would do something in the creative field. I started to paint when I was 10 with a local artist in her studio and from then on I loved the process of creating. Typography was probably the one thing that really made me decide to focus on design and from then on I have refined my “why”. 

The reasons I am a designer now have expanded.  We have the power to influence change, to help people see another way or another side, to bring beauty into the world, to make the complex simple, to entertain, to make something memorable, to delight and surprise and to form a connection, and most importantly … we can make people feel something, which I think is the greatest thing we can do with design.  


2. As an award-winning motion media, design artist, what is your process of developing the most innovative designs?

My process varies with each project but I think the one thing that is universal are these:

– Listening to the client and their needs. Sometimes this means guiding a client into another direction that they may have not previously thought of since we are helping them solve a problem. 

– Research and immersing myself and my team in the subject. This is crucial.

– Listening to good music while working


3. Do you believe in miracles?  What do you think about the artist’s role in seeing & producing a bright future?

I do believe in miracles. I think it is our responsibility in contributing to a bright future. A Designer’s role is to problem solve so it is inherent in our job. Artists reflect the consciousness of the world and influence it; there is social importance in a lot of art, more than just being aesthetically pleasing. 


4. What are the 3 pieces of advice you have for up and coming creative people looking to be the next innovator? 

Be curious. 

Look around you and see what you can make better. 

Put yourself in places that you never imagined, that challenges you. 


Part II:  The New Rules of Engagement
 Not Everything is as it Seems…Stay & Find Out. [Joyce]

Illustrated GIF courtesy of Tony Rodriguez

When crazy things happen some will run, but if you want it to end, stay.  Joyce was ready to die in order to stay and get her son back.  She never gave up even though people thought she was crazy.  When we do not know how something will turn out, we must learn to a. stay, b. trust our gut, and c. not shut ourselves down and those we love who may see differently.  Sometimes the ones who seem the craziest or the least capable can be the most honest & worth trusting.  Remember, a “crazy” mom, 4 kids, some teens and a cop – all seemingly untrustworthy or out of touch with reality — are the ones who solved this case. 


A friend is someone you will do anything for.  And they never break a promise. [Mike]

Illustration courtesy of Tony Rodriguez

“he could have played it safe, but he didn’t he put himself in danger to help the party…”

And this is exactly what Mike does.  If nothing else, he show teaches us the purest form of friendship — laying down your life for your friend.  From the moment Mike and his friends realize their friend is gone, they stop at nothing to retrieve him, going right out into the dark, wet and unpredictable night.  They know what it is to be a friend and constantly remind eachother that friends never give up, always tell the truth, and never break a promise.  Mike reasserts this time and again, as he passionately goes through every step of this series with the most honest responses.  He never hides his emotions, but feels them completely. 

The truth. To live by it even if it leaves us vulnerable is better than passing down pretense as a way of life to the future.  This very thing is, I feel like, one of the only rays of light I can see in this post-election America.  I see the truth coming out all over the place, including people’s silently held judgments, granted, many of them are extremist sentiments, but some of the truths that are coming out are more important than that, like that of a dear friend of mine who admitted for the first time ever to her father that she had been sexually assaulted when she was little, while in a heated argument about Trump being elected.  Waves of violence have come over a people who’s norm has been to say “fine” when people ask us how we are whether we are fine or not.  We are not fine.  We are angry, we are tired, we are scared.  So, now, we come out with it.  We are not okay.  Not okay with the giants of racism bullying half our population into thinking they are nothing or all alone.  Not okay.


We need to focus on what really matters…  [Lucas]

Lucas, Illustration courtesy of Tony Rodriguez

We all need them. People in our lives that bring us back to the point, even if in an offensive way.  This is what allows us to have balance; when someone is allowed to disagree with us and challenge us to back to reality — it is a good thing.  They are the coaches and helpmates of our lives.  May we not shut them out.  Lucas is the perfect vision of what it looks like to not be a sheep, going along with every plan, to be wary but also able to be influenced by his friends.  He was a constant catalyst to his friends and then set the ultimate example in the end by humbling himself and making up with his friend (even if he was right), so that they could ultimately save their other friend.  True friends are made through conflict.


Be You You shouldn’t like things because people say you’re supposed to.  [Jonathan]

Jonathan, Illustration courtesy of Tony Rodriguez

Jonathan challenged those he allowed in to, instead of living the life others traditionally had planned for themselves or you, to live your own true life.  One aspect of any life that actually moves forward is the ability to know and stay true to yourself.  What do you actually like?  What do you actually think or have to say about something?  Regardless of whether people disagree, it is valid.

You are Powerful:  say NO, say yes, stay curious. [Eleven]

Eleven, Illustration courtesy of Tony Rodriguez

Eleven is clearly the powerful one in the story, but she was powerful in so many other ways.  From not speaking just because someone wanted her to to saying no when something would become unsafe for her and her friends and even calling herself pretty was an act of being powerful.  She was also curious, exploring things even when it made others uncomfortable.   The biggest thing I think we learn from Eleven is that you do not have to be afraid, you can be powerful.  And when something is too big for you, you can get a little help from your friends.  Those same friends you would protect to the death.  


Always Always Always Root for your Friends.  [Dustin]

Dustin, Illustration courtesy of Tony Rodriguez

Dustin is the peacemaker, he has a wide open heart that easily invites others in if they give him a reason to but he also refuses to let his friends not be friends anymore because of disagreement.  He was never afraid to point out the ways each of them were being an ass.  He was proud of his friends, stuck up for them and believed the very best of them.  Like the individually passionate opposites of Mike and Lucas, we must have the middleman who can see the best in both and find common ground.  


Trust your gut – A little bit of trust here alright… [Hopper]

Hopper, Illustration courtesy of Tony Rodriguez

Sometimes, as we have already established, not everything is as it seems.  If something feels off, it may be and you do not have to be a part of it. If you seek the truth and you will find it.  


 Think Bigger [Mr. Clark]

Mr. Clarke, Illustration courtesy of Tony Rodriguez

Their teacher Mr. Clarke simply believed in the vastness of the universe from a studied perspective. He encouraged them to never shut down curiosity.   Because sometimes, things are more complex and deeper than they seem.    Have a wide open mind, unless you want to find yourself in a box (maybe even with thousands of others).  


Believe in the goodness of people but don’t take shit or conform [Nancy]

Nancy, Illustration courtesy of Tony Rodriguez

You can be pretty, believe in the best of people, and still say no.  Like Nancy who starts out just being a normal teenager and yet when her friend comes up missing, she whole-heartedly pursues her til the end. You can also be both smart and pretty.  Try not to judge people by their appearances.  Which brings us to Steve.  Oh, Steve. 


You are better than you think – Believe it & Do Something. [Steve]

Steve, Illustration courtesy of Tony Rodriguez

The whole time we were thinking that Steve was the ultimate prick popular guy, but people will surprise you if you let them.  You will surprise yourself, even, if you give yourself half a chance.  Maybe let’s come up to our potential, yeah?


Don’t get distracted [Barb]

Barb, Illustration courtesy of Tony Rodriguez

Be awake and listen, for you never know when you’re friend is being hunted by a Demagorgin.  We are the protectors of our neighbors; therefore, be awake and alert.


Ultimately, no matter what scary situation we find ourselves in — remember, we are there for a reason — and, who knows, through it we may just come out stronger than we ever imagined.  After all, no one really knows how this will turn out.  Stick it out and you will find out.


Check out more of the amazing works of Michelle Dougherty and Tony Rodriguez; you will not be disappointed.



Starting out as a staff writer & visual contributor in the Spring of 2016, Christine soon became the replacement Campus Correspondent at Her Campus Savannah College of Art and Design for the 2016-17 school year. In January 2017, she facilitated the launch of the SCAD Atlanta branch's own editorial launch, apart from the Savannah campus, leading the team to win some 2017 Her Campus awards!  She is an illustrator and avid history lover, and she also served in the Army as an Analyst and went to Bethel Ministry School before attending SCAD.  Her goal, as an illustrator, writer and in life in general, is to mine life of the treasure contained within.  She loves to find and put on display ideas, people (portraiture) and beautiful things.  Valuable things that are all around us in our everyday life in the form of friends, coworkers, classmates, nature, even industry.  She loves music (even writing songs and performing!), dance and new adventures.   Eventually she plans to write and illustrate children's books, have her own business featuring greeting cards, paper products, and her own revolutionary online/physical editorial publication.  For more about Christine check out her website at www.christineburney.com.
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