Summer Firework Art

by Joshua Heston

An oscillating fan turned, moving humid air from one aisle to another, cement floor smooth and a little dewy in the hot summer night. The glowing Black Cat sign competed with a red neon Open blinking in the window as Joe Diffie’s Prop Me Up Beside the Jukebox blared from a cheap dollar store radio.

And everywhere you looked was stacks of explosives, floor to ceiling, all wrapped in the brightest, loudest, at-times most distasteful pop art illustrations you could possibly imagine.

The garish, provocative images worked their magic on kids, teenagers and kids-at-heart alike. One man, heavy and sleeveless, moved to the counter — arms full of explosives — with the same giddy and unrestrained enthusiasm as his blond, waif-like daughter tagging behind. Army-minded boys darted among the aisles, comparing the merits of Black Cats versus Moon Rockets. A couple of teenagers in baggy camo carried off a cardboard box loaded with mortar shells.

Rainbow Fountains, Naughty Boys, Witchcraft, Hula Girls, Ecstasy.

Is it ironic we celebrate our nation’s birth with tons of small explosives imported from China? Perhaps not. Along with gunpowder, it is generally believed fireworks of all kinds were first made in China beginning in the seventh century. According to some historic records, American colonists were shooting off fireworks well before the United States was, well, united.

Twister, Tang Dynasty, Khaotic KaBoom, Pyro Candy, Holy Moly.

Brilliant colors, the tension of a sputtering fuse, booming explosions, the threat of danger. No wonder fireworks are so popular and, in a red state like Missouri, so plentiful. As Fourth of July nears, tents of circus-size proportion crop up like toadstools after a forest rain, filled to the brim with enough explosives to invite the envy of Guy Fawkes, the Catholic anarchist who attempted to blow up British Parliament in 1605.

Red Comet Tail, Whistling Moon Travelers.

Firework art is often ignored, especially as most of the illustrations are reduced to blackened paper shrapnel by the morning of July 5. But perhaps it is the cheap, disposable nature of this art that is so intriguing.

Here, in this wildly colorful, imaginative — at times offensive — and expendable art we find a unique vision of summertime, nighttime, and American culture.

Bamboo Bangers, Thunder Shock, Screaming Fish.

This is fusion, pop-pulp art at its most low-brow. Scrawling calligraphy and bold post-modern sans serif fonts mix with 1950s’ Japanese animation, Harvey Comics style drawings, and occasionally psychedelic post-sixties’ colors and shapes.

There is a wild conglomeration of styles and intents. Stately, classic 1950s’ designs complete with screen printed star bursts, scrolling typefaces and uniquely creamy fruit tones compete with the intimidating Desert Storm-style art of exploding tanks and hurtling F-16s.

Saturn Missiles, Crackling Bullet.

After 9/11, there was even a proliferation of Arabian-US conflict art, none of which passed muster with the political-correctness police. Back in 2009, one firework package drew ire from Minnesota Arab groups as it illustrated “men in Middle Eastern-style clothing riding camels with a stealth bomber flying over them. On the other side is an image of Uncle Sam pulling the beard of a graying man in a turban.” The firework in question was titled, “Run Haji Run.”

Um, politically correct firework art ain’t. And much like a circus side show, these illustrations appeal to an unspoken consciousness existing somewhere amongst adolescence, bellicosity, unashamed idealism and tension. For in amongst the 1950s’ era flying saucers, the black bats, the “Midnight Monsoon” or “Golden Shower” sparkler fountains, the “Gorilla Warfare” mortars and the sexy — albeit comic-book inspired — dancing girl twirling sparklers is the unspoken: fireworks are dangerous, unpredictable, and outside the boundaries of a safe, tempered society.

Shooting them off by the score demonstrates our guts.

Loud, rude and risky. As backyards across the Ozarks erupt in mortar smoke this season, it is a riotous reminder: middle America likes to play it big, free and not necessarily safe.


Shoots flaming balls and reports. Use only under close adult supervision. For outdoor use only. Do not hold in hand. Place upright and use only on concrete, asphalt or other flat surface.

June 16, 2014

plate 1. Crazy Debbie’s Discount Fireworks take over an old building near Mount Branson on East 76.


plate 2. Anime-style butterflies and scrawled Asian calligraphy invoke a stark and idealized perspective.


plate 3. Paper roosters spray sparks. Some even shoot fiery “eggs.”


plate 4. Conic fountains are glorified sparklers with the capacity to shoot enormous showers of sparks, albeit for only a few moments.


plate 5. Beauty and bellicosity combine.


plate 6. Traditional sexiness sells, even in cartoon form, with these twirling sparklers adorned by comic-book style dancing girls of indiscernible ethnicity.


plate 7. Overlaid circles remind the viewer of 1960s’ style art and a post-modern era.


plate 7. Visions of an Atomic-Age rocket launch come to mind in this comic inspired Thunder Bomb packaging.


plate 7. “Black Cat is the Best you can get,” says the sign, piercing in its contrasts and lighting up the night.

©, July 3 2, 2009, July 3, 2010. Story credits: written by Joshua Heston, firework history courtesy of wikipedia, run Haji Run story courtesy of

dogwood petal Josh Brooks MMA

Photo courtesy of Josh Brooks.

Californian Ozarker Josh Brooks, Mixed Martial Artist

(Billings, MO) “The hardest thing to control is your reactions leading up to a fight. You have the jitters and it can get so bad you’re exhausted before you start. You can either fight dumb or you can control your decisions and fight smart.”

So says Josh Brooks who grew up in southern California but arrived in Joplin on a football scholarship in 1998. He adapted quickly to the Ozarks. “My family originated near Birch Tree, Missouri, though my dad was born in California. I’m a firearms enthusiast and we live just three miles from the James River [near Hooten Town]. There is just so much more freedom here in the Ozarks.”

So how did Brooks find himself in a local mixed martial arts ring, fighting for all get out? “I weighed 330 pounds by my 30th birthday,” remembers Brooks. “I said to my wife, ‘I need to do something I can stick with. I should just go fight.’ I don’t know if the wife was challenging me but she bought me a gym membership and I started training.”

After a short time, Brooks was told by his trainer, “There’s a fight six weeks out.” Brooks entered the fight a super heavyweight. “I kinda liked that first fight. I had lost 20-30 pounds and weighed in just under 300 pounds.”

“I was under 265 [pounds] for the rest of my fights. It started out as just a way to lose weight and get back in shape but I’m a competitive guy. Though I started with little fight experience, I learned anyone who wants to train can get into it.”

Brooks fought a total of six fights, winning three and losing three. He trained by running, plyometrics, core work and grappling.

Today, Brooks works for a medical equipment company while raising Angus cattle and heritage pigs. He enjoys teaching his daughter Jordan and son Brock the Ozark lifestyle — including hunting, fishing, gardening and regular James River float trips — with his wife Danielle who grew up in the Nixa area.

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August 19, 2014

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