by Lucía Hernández
When I meet Quico Rovira-Beleta for a chat in December, he begins by telling me that like many audiovisual translators of his generation, he didn’t go to school for audiovisual translation. “At the time, audiovisual translation programs didn’t exist,” he recounts. “I studied biology. Arachnology, actually. The study of spiders. Can you imagine?” Actually, I can. As a translator myself, I know that expertise is born in pretty unexpected ways and if it’s any consolation, I’m certain this knowledge came in handy when he translated several installments of the Spider-Man franchise.
Quico, who is based in Barcelona, has been translating films for Castilian Spanish audiences since 1985. In his 35-year-long career, the prolific subtitling and dubbing translator has over 1500 movies and series to his name. And though superheroes and science fiction are what he has come to be known for, his work is quite diverse, and was particularly so at the beginning. The first movie he worked on was Rocky IV, followed by The Princess Bride, and Labyrinth. Then came the franchises including the Mission: Impossibles, and the Ocean’s. “I was only 17 years old when the original Star Wars trilogy came out” he tells me, with a longing in his voice. “It was [when I translated the Star Wars prequels] that I gained the trust of Lucasfilm. After that, everything Star Wars has passed through my hands: The Mandalorian, the Clone Wars movies (he also supervised the Clone Wars series), and Episodes 7, 8, and 9.” And just when he began to consider himself Star Wars’ go-to in Spain, he was offered the opportunity to translate for what he aptly called their “enemy”: Star Trek. If he was ever torn, he didn’t let on, “The fans of one don’t get along with the fans of the other, but I’ve done both and I get along with everyone.”
His allegiances are laid bare, however, when he tells me about translating for Marvel, “I am a lifelong fan of Marvel, right from the beginning. I prefer them to DC Comics.” Quico’s first Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) film was Iron Man 2 and since then he has translated 18 of the 23 releases.
With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility
Quico told me, “when you’re working on a film with fans―the sort that has millions of articles published before you even get started, like was the case for The Mandalorian, it’s a challenge.” Marvel is no different. “Marvel has lots of fans that not only love Marvel but know absolutely everything about both Marvel Comics and the Marvel Cinematic Universe.” And everything about Marvel is a lot. At first, the movies referenced the comic books. Now 23 MCU films in, they reference previous films, crossover films, and tv series as well.
Such a vast universe and knowledgeable audience could be intimidating, but Quico is more than up for it. “It’s a challenge, but it’s an appealing challenge.” It’s clear that to Quico, the challenge is the best part of the job, “It’s like a puzzle. I become obsessed. The greater the challenge, the more work it takes, the more I like it. Give me something harder. Get my brain working.” And when you hear Quico talk about the fans, you know he’s rising to the challenge for them. They inspire his work. “When you translate, you have to have the fans in mind at all times. Always. You can never forget about the fans. Keeping them top of mind makes you more careful.”
Quico’s Superpower: Intertextuality
And fans notice. “You found the line from Iron Man 2 and put it in Avengers: Endgame!” he recounts, filled with pride. With 15 years between these two movies, it’s no easy feat. But it’s in these connections where Quico thrives. He’s even drawn the interest of academic research. When I spoke to Yeray García Celades, an audiovisual translator who took on the subject for his master’s thesis, he told me his statistical analysis found that in Iron Man 2 (translated by Quico), 100 percent of the comic book references were found and translated, while the Spanish version of the original Iron Man (before Quico started translating for MCU) missed 33% of them.
While Quico insists that you don’t need to be a fan to translate well, he acknowledges that it helps. His ability to detect references seems supernatural, “I’ll read a script and get a feeling, almost an intuition. It’s as if the text were in bold. This line is from the comic! The intertexts start to find you even when you’re not looking for them.” Then, he knows exactly where to look for what he needs. He tells me that he recognizes a line from the comic book and finds how it was previously translated, “so that the audience can connect the film with the comics they read when they were 15 years old.” I can’t help but think he sees his 15-year-old self in the audience. The way he giddily lists the resources he accesses, it’s clear that documentation is not just a challenge but fun for him, an adult with access to the comic book library of his childhood dreams.
For MCU, he draws from the Marvel Encyclopedia, the Marvel Database, the Enciclopedia del Universo Marvel, and a website managed by the Spanish publisher of the comics.
He also knows that for sagas, his documentation serves not only him but will help those that come after him. He has contributed to an internal Star Wars glossary that now contains over 5000 terms. He also consults with experts at both Disney and MCU.
To Infinity and Beyond
While Quico made a name for himself on the big screen, his greatest joy is when he transcends it. The lines he writes sometimes become sound clips for children’s toys, as was the case with the Toy Story films. He loves it when audiences take a line he has written and make it a part of their everyday life. To him, they are, “practicing intertextuality without even realizing it.”
He told me about a time he was in a nightclub and the last song of the night came on. Thanks to his translation, “I Like to Move it Move it” from Madagascar is just as catchy in Spanish as it is in English. That night, everyone in the club happily moved it moved it into the night, never having realized how much influence he had on them, and of course, they on him.