FRESNO, Calif. (AP) _ The artist responsible for the stamp honoring William Saroyan concedes that it's ''a little cute,'' showing as it does a kindly gent with crinkling eyes and a walrus moustache seemingly about to twitch.

Artist Ren Wicks drew the portrait on the 29-cent stamp that went on sale across the nation Wednesday from a photograph Paul Kalinian of Fresno took on the sly, fearing the Pulitzer Prize-winning author-playwright would object.

A stamp bearing the same portrait and costing one ruble also was released Wednesday in Soviet Armenia, home of Saroyan's ancestors and the resting place of half his ashes. The other half rest in an urn in Fresno.

''This is a little cute, a little contrived,'' Wicks said of the picture on the stamp. ''I would have liked him more Olympian, more heroic.''

Wednesday's dedication ceremony was held in front of a bust of Saroyan outside a theater named in his honor after his death.

The theater is part of a convention center in what was the heart of Fresno's Armenian community when he was a boy.

Saroyan's writings explored human comedies and tragedies, but he wasn't eager to have others explore his humanity. He decreed that no funeral be held when he died a decade ago this month, rejected all attempts to name something in his honor in his hometown and had strained relations with his children.

His work includes ''The Time of Your Life'' and ''The Human Comedy'' - which tried to show the spark of humanity and heroism that can be found in everyone.

Saroyan once described his works as an attempt ''to express the individuality of people. ... He or she may be intellectual or ignorant, rich or poor in the eyes of others, but each is noble.''

He wrote half a century ago in ''The Human Comedy'' that ''every man in the world is better than someone else. And not as good as someone else.''

Saroyan's writings allowed him to escape the poverty he knew as a child growing up in Fresno and explore the lights of Paris, New York, San Francisco and Hollywood.

But he always returned to his hometown because ''I did literally meet the human race here. I found it a fascinating race. I found it complicated, paradoxical and contradictory.''